It was one of those e-mails that you think twice about before opening – not a lot of information in the main text, directing you to open an attachment.

Now the rest of the family still view my deep suspicion of e-mails – and the caution with which I approach anything which looks a bit out of the ordinary – as a running joke.

But like many businesses I use the computer to do some internet banking – and despite the best efforts of our financial institutions to ensure you can do this safely, I’m still aware that if anything goes wrong you tend to find yourself on your own pretty quickly.

So, my finger was hovering over the delete button of the email from a foreign sounding name at Control Union, a company I had never heard of, when I noticed that one of the recipients copied in had a Pepsico address.

While this didn’t mean anything to me immediately, it did start a small bell ringing somewhere in the back of my mind, like a cola can being kicked down the road.

For a few years now, some of our oats have been going away on a direct contract to the makers of Scotts porridge oats – yes the pack with the semmit-clad kiltie shot-putter doing his best to look like an extra from one of the Die-Hard movies.

But why, you might be wondering, would such a Grannie’s Hielan hame-like product have anything to do with one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of fizzy pop? Well, in this world of corporate take-overs, the product bearing the image of that poor wee teuchter is now marketed by Quaker, the Chicago-based American food conglomerate fronted by the po-faced perriwigged man in the black hat.

In turn, though, Quaker which has traded on its good old down-to-earth ‘family values’ image since it became the first breakfast cereal trade mark registered in the US 150 years ago, has been owned by Pepsico since 2001.

So, the bell which was faintly ringing in the back of my mind was the memory of filling in several dozen pages of a sustainable farming survey a year or so ago for the oats which, despite the international ownership element, go just down the road to Cupar.

Then, after an internet search, I discovered that Control Union is in fact an international company which carries out certification of agricultural products around the world. A further phone-call to our grain merchants revealed that there had been some vague word floating about of a follow up to the sustainability process we had signed up to – although no one had yet had any inspection.

Right enough, after plucking up the courage to open up the attachment, it gave the details of an appointment for one of the company’s European agents who was set to come up from London to verify that we were complying with the sustainability criteria.

That meant a quick re-cap on the criteria we had signed up to was in order – and, to be fair, a lot of the inspection/assessment/verification, call it what you will, looked set run along similar lines to that of Scottish Quality Crops.

However, there were more than a few additional clauses as well. These included questions on our zero-deforestation policy, our commitment to enhance social wellbeing and drive economic prosperity, our policy for conducting our business with integrity and avoiding all forms of bribery and corruption – and our process for managing greenhouse gas emissions so that they do not adversely affect ecosystem processes, plus questions on our energy, power and fuel use and a farm risk assessment report.

Reading through these in advance of the visit made it all sound like a bit of a daunting prospect, especially considering the short time scale we had until the auditor paid his visit.

It was amazing, though, just how much of the detail we had to hand, or were able to track down without a lot of fuss. The visit itself ran smoothly and to time, resulting in a verbal confirmation that we met all the sustainability requirements, although no written verification has yet arrived.

But it got me to wondering if we in Scotland might be missing a trick here on the wider marketing front – and if our own assurance schemes shouldn’t be looking to include some sort of sustainability assessment.

While I can hear the audible groan from many growers at the thought of more areas being included in the annual inspections, my notion was actually backed up by the revelation that the Irish are already stealing a lead on this front, on the livestock at least.

For over on the Emerald Isle the ‘Origin Green’ certification is a voluntary programme, led by Bord Bia, which encompasses the whole food chain with the aim of promoting and verifying a sustainable approach to food production – with all parts of the food industry effectively working together to prove they’re jumping through the required hoops.

By setting and achieving measurable sustainability targets that ‘respect the environment and serve local communities’ themselves they are taking the sort of initiative which gives them a strong marketing advantage and at the same time gaining world-wide recognition that farmers in the Emerald Isle are the green on many levels, with the exception of gullibility.

It’s being done through the existing farm assurance schemes and a whole lot of the big names in the food industry are crying out to get themselves a slice of the action.

In Scotland, we have long prided ourselves on producing the best quality foods in the most welfare friendly systems with great emphasis on the environment and sustainable practices – and that’s what convinced us to set up some of the world’s first farm assurance schemes to back up these claims on traceability and compliance with regulations, the major drivers for such a scheme at the time.

But times have moved on – and while we might like to wrap all our sales pitches up in tartan and boast that we’re doing everything right, nowadays we need to back this up with a creditable and viable scheme which also covers the sort of sustainability credentials for which buyers are increasingly searching.

So, should we really sit back and let the Irish steal a march on us and leap-frog our once world-leading reputation?

Of course, if we got into a situation where our produce was already assessed for meeting the standards like those being sought by my friends at Pepsico, wouldn’t it be a good idea if we had our own scheme that could guarantee all this – not only would that encourage them to make Scotland as a preferred supplier, but it would also leave us in control of the actual standards and how they are policed.

Drawing up the details of such a plan would provide excellent returns from the new £4.5m of funding available from the new food and drink export plan announced this week as apart of the push to double the value of Scotland’s food exports.

Maybe it’s time for us to set up ‘Origin Tartan’ – and, unlike the coy shot-putter on the porridge packet, be prepared to reveal what’s really going on under farming’s kilt!