Well what a month of Cummings and Govings!

I hadn’t realised that with heavy Government emphasis on keeping the ‘R’ number down they were not meaning replication, nor even rostochiensis, but resignations. I thought the Great North Run had been cancelled this year?

This has been an unparalleled and tough month but, hopefully, we are starting to turn a corner?

The Law of Unintended Consequence is at full throttle, further emphasising our global connectivity. Whether that is the loss of catering, restaurant and institutional markets, increased crisp consumption, a huge increase in cycle thefts or the disruption of distribution chains, causing drug gang conflicts.

During Covid-19, we have had a foretaste of the future that Extinction Rebellion and others wish for us. A small foretaste of the zero carbon future that Government estimates tell us will cost around a £trillion to achieve in the revised timescale.

A triple whammy of Covid-19 costs, ‘no deal’ Brexit and a zero carbon future by 2045 will devastate our economy and our children’s futures. This disaster will be unfurling by the time the rescheduled Climate Conference takes place in Glasgow, next year.

A theme running across the whole of Europe is that of dry or drought conditions across the board. Southern Europe has had some rainstorms but nowhere near enough.

It reminds me of the summer of 1976, the infamous ‘Pea Viner Summer’ when drought gave record potato prices, which stimulated unwise creative accountancy to ‘reduce’ declared profits for some.

Certainly, some spring barley crops have suffered from the dry and the rain on the third weekend in May was very welcome. Disease levels are generally low currently.

I recall negative responses to the fungicide programme in our SAC variety trials in the dry summer of 1984, but that negative response was very much an outlier.

However, there are opportunities to use much lower rates of mixtures with an adjuvant such as Kantor, mixing in folpet to safeguard our valuable chemistry, eg Revysol and prothioconazole.

Spring barley quality, yield and price also have big questions against them, due to a combination of dry soils hampering emergence and greatly increased UK areas sown, following the wet autumn.

In Western Ukraine, we finished our potato planting two weeks ago. There have been a few rain ‘events’, but soils remain dry.

Volunteer sunflowers and other weeds are well waxed up following the drought. This requires higher herbicide rates, plus an adjuvant to get through this thicker waxy layer to get inside these tougher weed threats.

We are also concerned at the movement of more aggressive blight strains from Western Europe, including those showing resistance to Shirlan. Fortunately, our armoury of chemistry is now superior to the UK and EU, with new and older chemistry, such as Bravo, metaldehyde and IPU newly available.

Certainly, Zorvec has been outstanding in our trials and in practice. We present a stiff challenge for any blight fungicide, by growing the susceptible Lady Claire for crisping and with our often moist humid summers with Carpathian mountain-sourced summer rains.

Zorvec has excelled in this tough environment, as SRUC and our own trials showed. Bravo will be missed by EU legume growers.

My hopes in my last column, of a greater government awareness of the need for domestic food security, were rather dashed by the recent disgraceful food standards deal vote in Westminster.

This betrayal of UK farming, despite the promises during the Brexit Referendum and December’s election, will have profound implications for both imports and exports. This due to proposed changes in tariffs, food safety and source labelling in the pipeline.

It is clear from the daily Covid-19 briefings that the current Westminster Cabinet was selected by Johnson on Brexit zeal and dogma, rather than ability or common sense. Lies have been exposed on the Irish Sea border custom crossings, which breach the Good Friday Agreement.

An extra 50,000 new UK customs agents are to be trained and employed. I had thought the election promise was for nurses, not Irish Sea customs officers?

The world has changed since December let alone 2016. What price good or even acceptable new trade deals with an embattled, badly Covid-19 hit USA and a globally isolated China intent on hardening on Hong Kong?

That triple whammy of Covid-19, zero carbon plans and a ‘no deal’ Brexit, on a UK economy already hit by recession, will be catastrophic for growers and consumers alike. No deal is an even worse idea now. No-one born this century voted in favour of it.

At least we could restart farming again in Scotland this month! Thanks Nicola.

But, thank goodness all farmers and growers ignored these ‘guidelines’, or the cupboard and supermarket shelves would be empty this harvest. T2 and calving wait for no man. Well done to all you law-breakers, both two and four-legged.

One of the unexpected pleasures of these restrictions has been to do some long awaited jobs, including time to sort out old filing cabinets. Here, I came across a number of old articles, acetate slides (remember farmer/agronomy meetings before PowerPoint and laptops?) and press cuttings from the past.

On reading through, I was struck by the thought that ‘Everything changes, but nothing changes.’ A cover article from ‘The Adviser’ magazine I wrote in 1994 caught my eye – that was the year that Shirlan was launched by Zeneca.

I can assure you that I didn’t retrospectively re-edit it post publication, a la Cummings. I was just following my ‘instincts’, but even back then The Adviser article covered the relatively new area of Integrated Crop Management (ICM) – a hot topic at this February’s CPNB Dundee Conference.

The articles also covered the need for crop rotation, the benefits of new minimum tillage techniques and the need for multi-site fungicides to protect new triazole and strobilurin chemistry.

It also covered the drive for pesticide reductions using ICM, an element of the EU’s new post-Covid 2020 ‘Green Deal.’ All very much still hot topics 26 years later.

I also came across a pack of SAC advisory leaflets highlighting the risks and benefits of alternative crops such as peas, beans, triticale and durum wheat. I authored these for the RHAS of 1987, but 33 years later we are still searching for viable alternative crops suited to our Scottish climate.

For those long time readers, I can report that our Cuban project, with biomass renewable energy, has finally achieved a commissioning milestone. Our new 60mW power plant has generated and has been supplying the Cuban grids with electricity continuously for 72 hours as I write.

This first power plant is 1.5-times bigger than the Lockerbie biomass plant and is powered by sugarcane bagasse and harvested non-indigenous, invasive maribu weed. This releases derelict former farming land for food production.

Despite the slow pace and bureaucracy and facing US sanctions, we all feel honoured and proud to be part of a great Scottish project to replace dirty diesel generation with cleaner more reliable power.

Despite the challenges of farming globally, it’s important to celebrate success. Despite inaccurate narrative to the contrary, worldwide we are now feeding 7bn better and more cheaply and on 68% of the land that we fed 3bn from in 1961.

This is largely due to farmers producing the same amount of food now from 20% of the area we tilled in 1961 (FAO data). This, despite the challenges of weather politics and the need to overcome hardships, which can cultivate a slightly thrawn demeanour at times in us farmers.

An old Ukrainian farming story suggests that these challenges and outlook are nothing new in farming.

An old Ukrainian farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbour's came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbour’s congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.