“Missing: Much loved season, answers to the name of Spring. Last seen 14 months ago. Possible recent sightings in West Highlands. Reward offered for safe return.”

That’s the advert which I’ve been giving serious consideration to taking out in the ‘lost and found’ columns of this newspaper.

When I wrote one of my last columns more than a month ago, I was kinda hoping that we would soon be getting on with the spring work and that the grass was about to launch into the sort of growth that would see an early turnout for the cattle and a lambing-time bite for the sheep that we all so desperately need.

Dream on

Well, while I could probably have penned that piece quite happily this year, it’s actually from an old copy of the SF dating back to 2013 which I turned up during an office clear-out – and it just goes to show you that no matter how bad you think things are at any particular time, there’s nothing new under the sun (or, indeed, the cloud-laden sky).

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the piece also bemoaned the high cost of spring seed and the poor prospects for harvest prices- as well as a roundup of advice being offered regarding the criteria which should be used when considering ploughing up poor-looking winter crops (with the determining factor tending to gravitate towards just how visible the field was likely to be from the main road).

But, sadly, my own fulminations haven’t been the only things which have been getting a re-hash in the press in recent times - for the prospect of food inflation has been hitting the headlines with some force once again over the past few weeks.

The three-year-late imposition of post Brexit border controls on foodstuffs coming into the country, while still only a sporadic and haphazard affair, has been one of the excuses being proffered by retailers to justify another round of price increases.

The fact that the Government has only just got round to bringing into effect what had been implemented on our exports going the other way into the EU on day one of Brexit still had the usual suspects shouting that it would undoubtedly lead to additional costs - which would have to be passed on to the consumer.

Strange, though, how these spells of food inflation during which the supermarkets are swift to point the finger, claiming the increased costs are outside their control seem to coincide so closely with the making of record profits by these retailers.

But what really makes my blood boil is when they try to pass the buck onto the farming sector, as has, once again, been the case over the past few weeks - when suddenly they seemed to have wakened up to the fact that we had a bit of a troubled Autumn and spring sowing in the UK and across much of Europe.

So it was that I found myself being unreasonably irritated by the number of reports on the radio and TV warning of a likely return of food inflation due to the bad weather as we were finally getting some of the spring cops in.

Fair enough, it’s maybe a good thing that there’s been a bit of a realisation that what the industry has been through over recent months is likely to have an effect on food supplies – and that as a result of the wet weather there’s going to be a shortfall in the production of everything from prime lamb to turnips – meaning there might have to be a bit of premium on the old meat ant two veg this year.

Porkie pies

But what does stick in my craw is the fact that the big food manufacturers are claiming that everything from biscuits to bread to beer is likely to be subject to a considerable hike in price as a result of the fact that cereal yields and overall production levels are also bound to be well below par this year.

This annoys me for a number of reasons. The first is the fact that the actual cost of the grain in your daily pan loaf, your packet of Hob-Nobs, your Weetabix or even your pint of beer amounts to only pennies - as the primary ingredients account for only a small proportion of the costs of manufacturing them. In most, if not all, cases substantially more will be spent by the manufacturers and retailers on packaging and advertising than is invested in the wholesome grain which goes into making the product.

The second thing which grinds my gears is the feeling of seen it all before over the fact that these multi-national companies adopted exactly the same excuse of more expensive wheat and other cereals for making bread and biscuit flour - or barley for brewing - for bumping prices up when grain looked set to be in short supply a couple of years ago when the war in Ukraine kicked off.

While the early stages of the conflict did see a temporary increase in the prices which farmers received for their grain, that didn’t last long – and it took no time at all for a fairly major re-adjustment of the market to see the on-farm prices fall back to less than half the level which they reached at their peak – despite the fact that the costs of growing these crops had continued to rise considerably.

And we all know that despite this fall in grain prices, what was being charged for goods on the supermarket shelves never saw a similar drop.

Import hypocrisy

Yet another reason for my ire is the reality that the majority of these big companies – from bread makers to whisky distillers – seldom show any qualms about importing grains from other parts of the world if and when it can be found more cheaply.

And this hurts – not only because it would be good if they supported our own growers and in the process help encourage domestic food security – but also because Scottish and other UK cereal producers have to jump through a large number of additional assurance hoops to ensure that they provide all the necessary food safety, environmental and increasingly climate change conditions which are demanded by the major manufacturers. And the sad fact is that imported grain often falls well short on many of these additional commitments.

It’s been pretty clear that while many of the big manufacturers and the supermarkets which stock these products on their shelves have blamed poor weather for price rises, over these periods of so-called food inflation, the obscene increases in the profits which they have made during the self-same period lays bare the fact that rather than passing higher prices back to farmers and growers, they have been pocketing the extra themselves – while at the same time claiming to be working hard to protect their customers.

So, as the football commentators are wont to say – looks like a case of déjà vu all over again!