Wintry Easter weather descended on Scotland as I write this and I am reminded of the critical importance of growing season and latitude to businesses I am involved in.

In Cuba, Brazil and Paraguay, there are long warm growing seasons with an opportunity to double crop with two harvests in one year.

In Scotland and Ireland, there is no such option and even a cover catch crop can be 'catchy'. The long cool growing season in Scotland, with adequate moisture and long summer day-lengths makes for record yields, just like New Zealand on the opposite side of the globe at similar latitudes.

In Brazil, harvest is in full swing, whereas in Scotland we are drilling a new season’s crop.

In Ukraine, the growing season is short and the climate continental. It is not long ago that there was 1m of snow there, but now that is all melted. This will sustain this year’s crops on the deep fertile, naturally well-drained soils we farm.

In Paraguay, there is currently a drought for the recently drilled maize second crops following great yields of soyabeans – at well above average prices.

It is a wonderfully varied and continuous farming world we work in, all doing our bit for global food security, whilst stewarding our landscapes, soils and environment for future generations.

In Ukraine, long cold difficult winters are late to depart, but spring roars in and sometimes seems to last only 24 hours before summer warmth. Sometimes we have to apply P and K and modest rates of N on the lingering snow to be there in time for our first burst of strong spring growth. There are no losses on our flat deep soils with good deep rooting crops.

More cultivation work ahead of the 2021 potato planting schedule

More cultivation work ahead of the 2021 potato planting schedule

Our yields and quality were excellent last year and prices were ahead of budget, with potatoes doing particularly well and in strong demand for processing.

It has been an exciting and profitable first year for our Scottish-based company in Ukraine and the great local team’s efforts in a difficult time of Covid-19 and the results produced justify our personal investments in the new Central Plains Group business.

This strong new start has been enabled by us leveraging all that we have learnt in the last 15 successful years in Ukraine building and successfully selling Europe’s largest regenerative farming business at 200,000 ha).

Always a great excitement in building success from scratch. Of course, this does require both commitment and capital and we have recently successfully completed an institutional cornerstone fundraise to take our next step forward.

Progress has been swifter this time round, with greater investor confidence in the market and our shared knowledge as an experienced management team.

As in most arenas, proven execution skills are in shorter supply than capital to grow, but to achieve challenging targets you need both. We are moving to the next step of our vision to develop an extensive farming and processing operation that operates in a zero-waste, low carbon bio-economy.

Destoning ahead of the 2021 planting season in the deep soils of the Ukraine

Destoning ahead of the 2021 planting season in the deep soils of the Ukraine

We will produce low-carbon feedstocks for biodegradable packaging and plant-based protein products for the rapidly growing $30bn global downstream markets.

Sustainable feedstock is essential for these new growing global markets and is often neglected, as I found in our renewable energy adventures in Cuba.

We have had a lot of interest from smaller investors and Scottish farmers about the new Central Plains Group business, so I am delighted that we will soon be launching a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube. This is the first major agribusiness crowdfunding raise in the UK.

This will allow those interested to join with our successful team and have a stake in some of the most productive soils in the world and in the two rapidly growing markets of bio-degradable packaging and plant-based proteins.

We have recently signed a contract with Swedish engineering company, Larsson, which is providing a turnkey starch processing factory for bio-degradable starch packaging feedstock production.

It’s interesting, as well as looking geographically at agriculture, to also look back in time. On a visit to Jedburgh, in the Scottish Borders, I was fascinated to learn that the town and its deep fertile alluvial soils were the centre of UK pear growing in the 18th century for over a hundred years.

Whilst not at the height of the Dutch tulip bulb frenzy, every available acre was planted with pear orchards, producing the sought after 'Jethart pears'. These were sold at high prices as far away as London, with the produce of a single tree fetching as much as £5000 in today's money.

That’s quite an output per hectare and obviously the climate was warmer than today too. The first orchards there were originally established by the Augustinian monks at Jedburgh Abbey and grew over the centuries to become famous for their quality.

As Jedburgh entered the 20th century, the orchards declined as they were gradually out-done by larger orchards in the South producing at much lower cost. The once famous orchards have now been entombed in a funeral shroud of concrete as they have been replaced by factories, shops and housing development.

A salutary and cautionary tale for the future of Scottish farming we hope will not be wider felt. Economies of scale were felt historically, as well as in this century.

Out with the sprayer for 2021

Out with the sprayer for 2021

It is harrowing to see the effects of third country status Brexit is having on our exports to the EU. Whilst the EU formerly represented 49% of our trade, year-on-year March total exports to the EU as a whole dropped by over 40%, with food exports hit even harder at 63% down.

Salmon exports are down 98%. With a higher proportion of Scotland’s economy based on food, fish and farming, this hits Scotland hard.

Imports have also been affected, with half our vegetables and most of our fruit imported. With 90% of our winter leaf crops coming from Spain in the winter, plus 85% of our tomatoes and 45% of our broccoli from the EU, these are all large numbers and there is a marked seasonality to these imports, as well as seasonal labour needs.

Some newspapers have tried to put the blame on the EU by citing the example of Switzerland not having EU export problems. Of course, Switzerland is part of the EU single market and pays for the privilege.

This is something that PM Johnson promised at the EU Referendum, but like many of his political and personal promises, was reneged upon for political expedience. As they say, a lie can be around the world before the truth has its boots on.

It is also distressing to see the continued nights of rioting in Belfast as Loyalists violently protest with petrol bombs and violence against the police. Sadly, this was predicted in my column long ago as a likely consequence of the ignorance of Irish trade and the Good Friday Agreement in UK government Brexiter circles.

Ignorance, or lack of a duty of care to its citizens? The latter I’m afraid to say in my view. One must be fair to the UK government, however, and I wish to quash rumours that Chris Grayling was holidaying near the Suez Canal recently.

It was interesting and informative to attend the SSCR Winter Potato Meeting where new PCN strategies were highlighted for the increasing problem of PCN in potatoes. It was outlined by Professor Ian Toth that nematodes are doubling every 6-7 years and thus hitting the area available for seed production.

At this rate there will be no seed industry by 2050, so a stakeholder working group has been set up to develop action points and preserve our quality land base. More testing is essential and better groundkeeper control as well as more resistant varieties.

We paid tribute at the meeting to two stalwarts of the James Hutton Institute and SSCR, in academic and former director of the institute and SSCR, Prof John Hillman; and Perthshire farmer and a long term board governor of the institute and founding director of SQC, Ian McLaren. Both gave greatly to the industry and were much respected.

We shall miss their wisdom, expertise and mischievous good humour at our meetings. I am heartened by the knowledge that we have a world class institute in the JHI who can put the science and knowledge into play in the industry and future discussions on agriculture and the environment of our nation.

What I am not heartened by is the voting by levy payers against funding of AHDB research. It's very short-sighted and one cannot imagine Dutch growers de-funding research for short term gain.

Is the industry getting more complex? 'Yes'. Are the solutions increasingly science based? 'Yes'. Have past gains come from good research? 'Yes'. What proposals do the No voters have to replace that essential research funding? ... pregnant pause.

So whether distant in geography, soils, seasonality, climate or time, all farmers share one thing in common. We all harvest sunshine and capture carbon to make this world’s economy, health and well being keep turning and progressing and we need increasingly complex knowledge with which to do it.

Beware the Ides of Pears.