Debt figures for Scottish agriculture are currently sitting at an all-time high of £2.34bn, with farmers across the country continually looking to develop and diversify, despite the range of external challenges and pressures facing the industry.

In the past 12 months, however, demand for finance has slowed significantly with the lowest year-on-year increase since the low base rate for borrowing began in 2009. From the annual agricultural census figures, it’s clear to see that poor weather – and not just that limited to the Beast from The East – was to blame, impacting on lambing and cattle numbers for the year.

The summer heat wave that followed the long cold spring made cropping and livestock challenging, with poor planting conditions ultimately leading to a shortage in animal feed.

To keep businesses moving forward, and to withstand the challenges that will no doubt continue to arise, investment in infrastructure, technology and processes to improve efficiency are key, which often requires additional finance.

Scot Howie, relationship director for Barclays Agriculture, who oversees client relationships across Scotland, told The Scottish Farmer that, despite the challenges, our farmers were well placed for future success. “Scotland has an excellent heritage and reputation for agriculture and it’s something Barclays have been supporting for more than 270 years. Lending to the sector is an important part of what we do, helping to boost profitability and efficiency for individual businesses, driving growth for the industry as a whole," he said.

A crucial ingredient in this is a holistic service offering for clients, as well as the close links clients teams keep with customers – which is on a face-to-face basis. “We place a high value on maintaining personal connections and relationships and as banking becomes more digital, we know how important it is to continue to have face to face contact with our clients – and we know that clients value these meetings too.

“We have a seven-strong team of on-the-ground relationship managers to boost local connections and get to know the people at the heart of the industry. The team work the length and breadth of Scotland to support businesses within their local communities and help them plan for the future.

“With specialist insight into the challenges facing the sector, from weather concerns to skilled labour shortages, we have the capabilities to support individual farm owners up to private estates," he added. “Thinking ahead, the next generation will be vital in securing a successful future for the industry and we need to work together to encourage young people to get involved in agriculture.

"Recent research from Barclays worryingly showed that just 1% of Scottish millennials view farming as a desirable career, with a lack of understanding and a perceived lack of resource putting people off. Skills and experience from the older generation is, of course, essential to share and pass on, but every industry needs new talent to fuel innovation and development.”

He said the bank was increasing support for agri-tech start-ups, who bring new cutting-edge technology into play to improve processes and increase productivity, and south of the Border, has introduced a dedicated team for clients in the sector.

Mr Howie added: “Technology is transforming the way some of our customers farm, for example, using drones to survey land and track livestock, robotic fruit-picking machines and sensors that monitor poultry. This type of innovation is soon to become a regular feature in the sector that can streamline production and help farmers to save time and money.

“A combination of new expertise and new technology will help us to future-proof Scotland’s agriculture sector and funding will play a key part in helping farmers to expand, modernise and streamline processes. The industry is changing at pace and in times like these farmers need assurances and assistance to manage and prepare for the uncertainties that lie ahead.”