Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the middle of some obscure ocean for the past 10 years or so there’s a fair chance that you will have received a delivery, by either the postal service or a courier, of something ordered either on-line or through a mail-order catalogue.

The proliferation of companies like Amazon (other on-line shopping sites are available – some of which even pay their taxes) has seen a huge leap in the number of vans rocketing about the countryside delivering everything from clothes to books to groceries, even to farm equipment and machinery spares.

While there is probably a strong argument that such a blossoming in the career opportunities for the ‘man with a van’ might not be the best thing in the world for the environment, few – if any – ever burden you with paperwork, so at least a few trees are spared.

They do, almost to a man though, have some sort of electronic gizmo – in the shape of a tablet, a phone or a hand-held device – for recording the date, time and place of delivery and name of the person receiving the package though. While I can’t see the point in receiving a text from the delivery company telling you that ‘your package has now been delivered’ only a few seconds after it’s been placed in your sweaty little mit, it is often handy to be able to track the whereabouts of a parcel.

Many such services allow you to follow your package each step of the way throughout its journey – and you can tell which depot it’s got held up in or find out the two-hour gap in which Gavin or Barry will attempt to deliver your keenly anticipated parcel from Tractor Spares-R-Us.

So, regardless of what items you buy, the existence of these services does highlight the fact that paperless electronic tracking is commonplace and is now a fairly mature price of technology.

With harvest now beginning to be more than just a distant dot on the horizon and thoughts of the annual battle to get hold of grain lorries to take the malting barley away springing once more to mind, I found myself wondering what happened to the plans for electronic grain passports?

The e-passport system was widely heralded as the way forward a couple of years ago, shortly after the AHDB had spent six years and £400,000 on such a scheme and found that the pilot project which they ran offered a whole host of benefits to the industry, to both sellers and buyers.

There may have been some doubts expressed about connectivity issues and the ability of farmers and lorry drivers to cope with the technical aspects at the time, but there’s much less of an argument on this front nowadays.

While some grain companies might have set up their own systems for offering faster feedback on the lab test results of loads of grain which have been delivered, I can’t help but feel that it would be a good idea if they all worked to a national standard, one to which we all had some input.

This could allow us to know the weights and results of quality tests of grain going into the store before another three lorries had been loaded for the same destination, thus saving us thousands of pounds if there were any problems. It could also allow growers to contest any unexpected results while samples were still fresh and the grain still in the lorry.

From the ‘other side’, such a system would not only offer faster data flow but also the ability to offer a far greater degree of transparency and traceability, along with a guarantee of provenance on the produce which they handled.

It’s now more than two years since a meeting of the Grain Liaison Committee – made up of farmers, merchants, processors and others in the supply chain failed to reach an agreement on the way forward – despite the offer of £2.5m of funding from AHDB to help cover the initial costs of the change to electronic passports.

On the plus side, the issue is once more being raised, but it’s not likely to be discussed until after harvest and even if agreement is reached, there will undoubtedly be a fair old lead-in time which might even make implementation tight for 2020 harvest.

But when you look to the huge benefits which electronic systems have brought not just to the the delivery business but also to the livestock sector, in terms of traceability and identification it’s hard to see why objections would be raised – especially since all the technology is there.

Last time around, reports indicated that millers in the south were less than keen on the system and felt that it might jeopardise some aspects of commercial confidentiality – but most of the Scottish grain trade seemed to be in favour of a national scheme.

It just makes you wonder if, having led the world in setting up the first widely recognised grain assurance schemes when SQC was fist set up, if Scotland should boldly go for it alone if an agreement isn’t reached at the next round of discussions.

With the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing being celebrated this week, introducing such a scheme might also be looked back upon as ‘one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind’…

Stirring the porridge on oats

While I might have been singing the praises of that particularly Scottish crop oats in my last column, I can only hope that I wasn’t responsible for the big increase in the acreage sown this year.

But with the AHDB reporting an 8% increase in the area down to the crop this year, the timing of this couldn’t have been much worse. With the drought in both the UK and across much of Europe, including Scandinavia where a great deal of oats are grown, yields suffered badly last year, a fact which put a bit of premium on any of the crop available for export.

Maybe this tempted more people to sow this often overlooked crop. However, with plantings up by as much as they are, a return to normal yields is likely to see a crop of well over one million tonnes produced in the UK. With demand likely to be around 850,000 tonnes, that’s going to leave a fair bit to be pushed onto the export market.

But – and it is a big but – oats stand alone in the cereal world in facing a hefty export tariff of €89 a tonne if it goes into the EU, ruling out that particular market if we plunge into a no deal Brexit. While there might be other markets out there, in recent years 93% over our exports have gone to Europe – so things could be tricky for any surplus without a home this year.

But with the whole of the Scotland’s population – along with the rest of the UK – likely to be plunged into economic turmoil by a no-deal Brexit, to misquote Marie Antoinette, it might be a case of ‘let them eat porridge’!