THERE WAS a tale about a keen fisherman who passed away quietly in his sleep.

Surfacing on the other side, he found himself on the banks of his favourite river on a day when the sun was shining and the birds were singing. Finding his favourite old split cane rod to hand, he cast into one of the pools where he had always been convinced a real whopper lurked, but which had never yielded him any success.

First cast, the line was hit with a massive take – and after putting up a good fight, a monster fish was landed.

Feeling very satisfied with what the afterlife seemed to have in store for him – for he thought surely this must be heaven – he cast again.

Another prize-winning fish was soon landed and so the day continued with much success.

After a good night’s sleep he awakened to find himself back on the river again and soon landing fish after fish. And so it went on, day after day, landing with ease fish of record-breaking proportions.

However, after several days of such startling and straightforward success, the fisherman began to realise that rather than being in heaven he was, in fact, in hell.

It took me a while to realise why this would be the case – but you need to understand a bit about the psychology of anglers and fishermen.

The story says a lot about the anticipation, the planning, the uncertainty and the sheer fighting against the odds and battling adversity in uncomfortable conditions which fishermen enjoy and the fact that it is the extremely rare occasion upon which the very low chance of success comes to fruition that provides the reward in the pastime.

And grain farmers might be finding themselves in a bit of a similar position when they get a chance to take stock after the hectic spell of cutting which was underway in most of the arable areas over the past week or so – but more for economic than philosophic reasons.

For a while it’s a pretty safe bet that the yield metres on the combine consoles have been enough to put a smile on the face of even the most sleep-deprived of arable growers, this will inevitably mean that there will be a fair old pile of grain waiting to be processed through the drier.

And, with the absolutely stonking yields which have been coming in, there’s bound to be a surplus over and above what even the most optimistic of forward sellers will have committed to contracts – meaning that there’s likely to be a fair old pile of grain yet to be sold.

But while I wouldn’t want to detract from the wonderful growing season with which Mother Nature blessed us this year, to be honest it probably wasn’t the best year to shower us with such bounty.

In a normal year, high yields do tend to have a bit of a depressing effect on the market price – a simple case of supply and demand. But in the past the country’s ability to export this grain has always meant that there has been a relief valve on this limiting factor. For a while the UK grain market normally isn’t all that far out of balance, it does tend to be a complicated one, with hard wheat for breadmaking and other specialist crops having to be imported while there is often a reasonable export trade to balance this, with a deal of our own being sold abroad.

Take away the ability to export grain, however, and the whole system is suddenly thrown into turmoil.

While there has been much made of the fact that the timing of our likely exit from Europe couldn’t have come at a worse point for the sheep sector, the same applies to the grain growers, especially in a big harvest year – with the total lack of clarity on trading conditions only a few brief weeks down the line currently having a calamitous effect on the market.

I spoke to Julian Bell, the SRUC’s grain economy guru, to try to get some idea of what the future might hold for the markets.

He said that while Scotland hasn’t been a major exporter of cereals in recent years, some feed barley has traditionally been exported abroad when there has been a bumper crop – but the overall internal market is highly influenced by exports leaving ports in the South of England.

And on top of the general political uncertainty kicking the market, Bell said that crashing out of the EU with a no deal was likely to result in tariffs being imposed on UK grain being exported to the continent.

Now the general tariff appears to be €95 a tonne on wheat which would render exports non-viable – but the situation is made more complex by the availability of the difficult to fathom Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) system which is designed to let enough grain into the EU at a reasonable price to make sure that they (previously we) never run short.

Bell said that the EU had a TRQ of €12 a tonne available on 2.5 million tonnes of wheat which was available to any country – but the UK alone could have an exportable surplus of two million tonnes.

Outside trade with the EU, some third country options for exports are also available, such as to North Africa, but life would be easier if the quality of wheat in England was OK, with decent Hagbergs allowing it to meet milling standards.

“If our surplus is feed, then we will have to be cheaper still and maybe have to send it further afield. So our prices are likely to be £10/t lower if supplying the EU and anything from unchanged to £5, £10, £15/t or more lower into non EU markets.”

If English wheat is cheaper it will inevitably drag down prices in Scotland too. However, that might help boost domestic demand – and Bell said that apparently the distillers at Invergordon are trialling wheat this year and some of the distillers and feed users may switch out of imported maize and into UK wheat, moves which would help give a floor to prices.

However, he said that the situation for barley exports looked a deal more difficult, with tariffs set at €93/t and with only a small TRQ of 307kt available for feed at €16 a tonne – but none for malting barley.

So the pressure is on to move the 300,000 tonnes of English malting barley which goes to Belgium and Germany before Brexit D-day and this race to export probably isn’t doing much for the price.

With only limited third country markets available for malting barley there is also the unpleasant prospect that any English stuff left in the UK after Brexit will hang around to haunt the Scottish malting barley market.

On the feed market, however, Bell said that, like wheat, cheap domestic barley could displace imported maize and other feed ingredients and this was likely to be where the floor was set – priced at a discount to imported maize.

As I mentioned in a previous column though, the situation for oats looks to be the most worrying. While most of this notoriously fickle and difficult to harvest crop is yet to be gathered in, plantings were well up and, provided some of the crop remains in the vertical state, yield prospects look good – indicating that more than enough will be available for the millers and processors.

No TRQ is available on oats – meaning that all raw oat exports to Europe would face a €89 a tariff tax. But the fact that processed oat products face an even higher tax of €170 a tonne will also spell problems for companies such as Quaker who export their porridge oats and other products in the EU.

The only real alternative export prospect for oats would be to the US, but big boats would be required, meaning sailing from some of the larger ports which are situated down south – for on the home market feed processors have long been unwilling to use oats in feed rations so there’s no real alternative outlet for surplus here either.

Of course maybe Brexit will be all sorted out before it comes to the bit…