There’s been a growing feeling of late that as far as courting public and political sympathies is concerned, arable farming has become a bit of a Cinderella sector – and that it stands in danger of being overlooked and neglected as future farm policy is drawn together.

Other parts of the industry, like those involved in farming livestock and working the harsher areas of the country certainly seem to be benefitting from their more immediate emotive appeal, not only to the general public but also to those in the corridors of power – with the new group being set up to look at the beef sector being just one example.

But while these areas might have been hogging the political attention in recent times, we’re fast awakening to the fact that if the current support measures are dismantled willy-nilly, a large proportion of grain producers will suddenly find their businesses being plunged into the red.

So it was good to see a tactful, but firm, request being made at last week’s NFUS agm to rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, to take some time to meet up with some cereal growers and to get a fuller picture of the keystone role played by the cropping sector.

The new chair of the crops committee, Willie Thomson, issued the invitation promising Ewing that if he did meet up with those involved in growing crops, he would see a forward looking industry which was well placed to help address the many issues facing farming as a whole and which focused on solutions rather than on problems.

But he also stressed that it was important that those drawing up future policy didn’t make the mistake of assuming that, in the current economic climate, productive agriculture was necessarily profitable agriculture. For despite the presence of the sort of expensive kit necessary to carry out our work in the short time slots which are available to us in Scotland, the margins in crop growing are at best both slim and precarious.

And, there’s no getting away from the fact that if area support is not replaced by some other scheme which arable farmers can key into, then the outlook is more than a little grim as few in the sector would be able to consistently break even on the returns from cropping alone.

The conveyor belt which requires us to constantly improve productivity also requires a constant investment in the tools to deliver ever increasing levels of efficiency by ensuring ever-more precision with seeds and targeting with fertilisers and sprays.

This approach isn’t only confined to ensuring the best returns from the costly inputs which crop growing requires – but it also minimises emissions of greenhouse gases and any potential of pollution – but all this comes at a fairly high financial cost to the individual businesses which have invested.

So while the news of the £40m so-called 'agricultural transformation scheme' announced by the rural economy secretary at the agm might look like an opportunity to keep this approach going, it’s probably nowhere near enough to be considered a game changing investment.

Fair enough, it might be a sound idea as a pilot project and it might help plot out the future direction of support measures.

But, as was raised at the meeting, there is a danger that those who have already invested their own hard-earned cash in taking a responsible step forward might miss out as they have already invested in the necessary equipment.

I imagine that was why there was a call made for this sort of work which has already been done not only to get some sort of financial recompense – but also to gain some greater recognition for a sector which has actually taken great steps in recent years to ensure not only higher productivity, but also greater efficiency and environmental awareness. It has also addressed many of the issues which are only now being recognised elsewhere.

Even under the current greening regime, there is a strong feeling that while those with permanent grassland might have to undergo the mild inconvenience of drawing up a proposed fertiliser plan for such land, most of the actual restrictions are placed solidly on the arable sector.

While nobody has to keep three different species of livestock to qualify for support, grain growers have been saddled with the three-crop rule for several years. And that’s on top of having to cope with buffer zones, uncultivated areas along any water features such as burns, rivers, ponds and even dry ditches as well as steering well clear of hedges and trees.

And, while we’re mentioning it, it’s the cropping boys that have to meet the Ecological Focus Areas by taking a proportion of Scotland’s already scarce cropping land out of production and putting it down to fallow. No one is threatening the livestock sector with penalties if they don’t ensure that five in every100 cows or ewes are yeld.

On the topic of livestock, as far as keeping sheep or cattle is concerned, forget it on a big arable unit – because the penalties for a few missing tags or lines in the record book will be imposed on a blanket basis across the whole of the arable side of the business as well.

I suspect that this factor has been conveniently overlooked as a contributor to the constant downward trend in stock numbers across Scotland.

But, of course, no one is suggesting that any sector either holds all the aces or has all the answers and there’s plenty of room for improvement across the board – just as long as it is across the board.

So it was good to hear from someone who does understand that all sectors need to play their part in the shape of former NFUS president, Nigel Miller, who also spoke at the agm in his current position as co-chair of the Farming for 1.5 Degrees think-tank group which is looking at 'joined-up' ways of combating climate change which wouldn’t compromise the industry’s role as food producers.

It does look like there will be a spread of responsibilities, if the advice being drawn up by this group is heeded.

While steering away from being too specific, he told the conference that a three-phase approach could be adopted to mitigating warming. Phase 1 could see an approach which could adapt current greening measures to build a score for individual businesses which could be used to show that they were making progress, a measure which would encourage all sectors to do their bit.

He said that, in phase 2, we could be looking at measures such as electrolysis of slurry to reduce emissions, the use of covered manure stores and starter cultures to ensure beneficial breakdown during composting, adding: “And if we could get the current average slaughter age of our cattle down from 22 to 18 months and reduce the 6% losses, we could dramatically reduce methane emissions.”

Phase 3, he suggested could look at a range of longer-term, larger-scale measures such as moorland restoration and a greater use of agroforestry.

So, while we in the industry appreciate the complex interconnectedness of all the different sectors which make up Scottish Agriculture PLC, we need to make sure that those drawing up policy are also kept aware of its importance and that they don’t leave one crucial part out in the cold.