2018 kicked off with a founding member of Red Tractor farm assurance getting a call up to the New Year’s Honours List. Donald Clarke was the first chief executive of the organisation after the reputation of British food and farming had been tarred by years of food scares during the 1990s, and he worked there for 19 years until May, 2017. He received a CBE from the Queen. 
Monitor Farm Scotland celebrated their first birthday, having established nine sites in Scotland as part of a joint initiative between QMS and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds, with funding from the Scottish Government. “It’s really heartening to see all our farms are making the most of this opportunity to ensure their enterprises are sustainable in the long-term,” said AHDB Cereals and Oilseed knowledge exchange manager, Gavin Dick. 
Scotland’s beef farmers got increasingly frustrated with the complications arising from ScotGov’s Beef Efficiency Scheme, as they called for both an admission of its failure, and a fresh start. NFUS vice-president, Martin Kennedy said: “Farmers initially signed up to the BES in significant numbers because they were encouraged by the potential of support being based around business improvement. Unfortunately, many have become frustrated following the addition of further scheme details after the initial application window. Ultimately, those taking part in the BES must consider the cost and benefits of participating. NFUS will continue to seek any scheme changes which we think will positively impact those who are continuing in the scheme. Lessons must be learned for future support schemes.”
The middle of the month saw many parts of Scotland blanketed with up to 12 inches of snow, raising fears that some hill livestock would become casualties of a cold snap. A full foot of snow was recorded at Megdale Farm, Westerkirk, between Langholm and Eskdalemuir. 
Following on from their 2017 World Angus Forum, January saw publication of financial reports by the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society, revealing the extent of the setbacks the event appeared to have suffered. The report showed that the society made an apparent loss of £381,299 on the summer 2017 event, after the organising committee used examples of other forums from around the world to predict that 800 to 1000 delegates could be expected to attend, and that £500,000 would be needed in sponsorship. Chairman of the forum organising the committee admitted: “We perhaps didn’t gather the sponsorship that we expected, but in these times of austerity, that is more than understandable, and we are indebted to those who did contribute – financially or in kind.” 
Avian Influenza made a return to the UK, as DEFRA confirmed a case in 17 wild birds in Dorset. Local measures were put in place to manage the potential threat, including a local Avian Influenza Prevention Zone in Dorset, as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of disease to other birds. 
Livestock farmers on Orkney were rocked at the announcement of the immediate closure of the council-owned Haston abattoir in Kirkwall. Since 2012, the business has been leased and operated on a reduced basis by a consortium of local butchers, Orkney Meat Processors, but the council said the abattoir was too big for current and forecast throughput. Latest figures showed that about 70 cattle, 100 sheep and 30 pigs were slaughtered per month at Haston. Orkney farmers, councillors and NFUS all voiced their shock at the move. NFUS livestock committee chairman Charlie Adam said it was a ‘disappointing development’ which put the unique Protected Designated of Origin at risk. “The closure also causes a major difficulty in the production of North Ronaldsay mutton, which is vital to the small community.”
Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner issued a new Code of Practice to help landlords and tenants agree about where responsibility lies in maintaining agricultural holdings in good conditions. The Code of Practice for the Maintenance of the Condition of Tenanted Agricultural Holdings is the fourth to be published by the Commissioner under the authority of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. 
Dr McIntosh said: “Whilst the responsibility for keeping the fixed equipment in good shape is a joint one, each party has a specific part to play. Most tenants and landlords are able to reach an amicable agreement, however, where agreement is not met, tension can result in necessary repairs and maintenance being neglected.
“I have worked closely with the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, NFUS, Scottish Land and Estates and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers Association in developing this code so that, wherever possible, agreed positions are reasonable and fair to both landlords and tenant farmers.”
Further milk price falls were announced, prompting NFUS to call on the supply chain to deliver fairer returns to producers. Milk price analysis showed that Scottish and UK dairy farmers are lagging significantly behind when compared to the returns being enjoyed by many EU and New Zealand producers. 
Farmer-owned co-op, First Milk announces a 1ppl price cut, having held its price at the end of 2017. Meanwhile, as an example of good collaboration, the Milk Supply Association, which represents dairy farmers and the Fresh Milk Company (Lactalis) in Stranraer, agreed to a three-month fixed price of 29p per litre. 

February started with the announcement that Scotland’s total income from farming was estimated to have increased by £245m in 2017 – but NFU Scotland insisted that the latest upbeat ScotGov figure masked a much more complicated picture at farm level. 
According to latest figures, agriculture was worth £672m to the Scottish economy in 2016, up from £639m in 2015, with improvements in potatoes and sheep farming offsetting the effect of the fall in milk price. Although not all the data was in yet, the Total Income From Farming for 2017 appears to have risen to about £917m, the third highest since 2000. 
Rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing said: “As the cornerstone of the rural economy, I welcome the increase in overall income from farming in Scotland in 2017 and 2017. It is particularly pleasing to see income from milk up £117m based on improving prices.”
The Scottish Farmer was congratulated on its 125th anniversary in a Parliamentary Motion tabled by former Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead. Mr Lochhead moved: “That the Parliament congratulates The Scottish Farmer on its 125th anniversary; notes that it is thought to be one of the oldest farming publications in the world; acknowledges that it has been providing essential farming news and business data to aid and support farmers since its launch in January 1983.”
Fergus Ewing visited Glenrath Farms, in the Scottish Borders, where more than half of the 235 staff are Eastern European. He described migrant workers from the EU as ‘extremely hard working and essential to the proper functioning of the rural economy’. 
Mr Ewing said: “I have made it clear to Michael Gove on repeated occasions that people from Poland, like the majority of EU workers here at Glenrath, are vital to the rural economy. I came here today to see Glenrath Farm and speak to people from these other countries. They all say they are happy in Scotland and would like to continue to work here and in some cases have their families join them. The Scottish Government wants to see that happen.”
Brexit and the development of a new domestic agricultural policy for the UK offers a chance to address ‘systematic failures’ in our food industry – and that should mean greater recognition and reward for organic production. That was the February call from the leading organic certifier. Organic Farmers and Growers, which blamed the current food system for decline in soils, biodiversity and water quality. 
OFG highlighted three key demands for a new system – organic agriculture should be recognised as a distinct farming system, offering multiple, simultaneous benefits; the delivery of these public goods should be recognised and adequately rewarded with costs not passed onto organic consumers; there should be a 20% increase in agro-ecological farmland across the UK with organic representing half of that total. 
Landowners leader David Johnstone was accused of demanding ‘excessive’ increases from his tenants – as high as 40% – on his Annandale Estate near Lockerbie. Scottish Land and Estates chairman Lord Johnstone was blasted by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association for going against industry agreements which, it claimed, limit the amount by which rents should be increased. 
But the landowner rejected any accusation that his estate had ignored the joint guidance on rent reviews, and retorted that the STFA was ‘deliberately misinterpreting’ the agreed rent review framework. The Annandale Estate rent review was first announced on the SL and E website, where Lord Johnstone said: “Rent reviews invariably attract debate and commentary and, given my position as chairman of SLaE, I felt it right that the estate should be transparent in that it is conducting his own rent reviews.”
Borders Livestock Auction Mart owner, H and H group, announced plans to refurbish its St Boswells mart site and develop land adjacent to it. 
The plan, if approved would bring new homes, amenities, business premises and employment to enhance the rural economy and the town of Newton St Boswells, said H and H, which insisted that livestock auctioneering would continue at the mart. 
The company lodged a proposal with Borders Council announcing its intention to take forward a planning application of the site, located on both sides of the A68, totalling approximately 60 acres, with the mart itself occupying 10 acres. The proposal means that the mart, which would stay on its existing location, would have new offices and better facilities, making it an integral part of the community hub. 

March kicked off with DEFRA’S Michael Gove proposing a ‘Robin Hood-style’ payment system in the consultation on the future of farm support in England, which would take money away from large subsidy earners to fund more payments rewarding environmentally-friendly farming. 
But, despite this public-pleasing stance, both the Scottish Government and NFUS expressed disquiet at Mr Gove’s focus on the environment over direct encouragement for livestock production and sought assurances that Scotland will be able to do things differently. 
Reducing payments to the largest landowners, via a £100,000 cap, would impact on around 2100 farmers in England and could free up £150m to be invested in ‘environmental enhancement and other public goods’, it was suggested. 
Although these figures were only an estimate for English farmers, Scotland’s industry could not help but anticipate that similar cuts could be rolled out here, a prospect only tempered by the UK’s commitment to maintain the current agri-support budget until 2022. 
Bovine TB reared its ugly head again as a routine screen confirmed a case of the disease in the Campbeltown area of Argyll. Movement restrictions were put in place while further testing took place. 
This resulted in the cancellation of the Scottish nursery sheepdog trials that had been due to take place in the area. 
Sheep worrying once again proved that it wasn’t an issue that was going to easily disappear, as a slew of horrifying pictures circulated on farmers’ social media pages following incidents around the country. 
In Inveraray, sheep were found with their faces ripped off, still standing alive, in the short time it took to arrange humane dispatch. In Fife and Jedburgh, there were similar distressing scenes amongst in-lamb ewes, attacked in their fields by marauding dogs. 
NFUS shared the unpleasant pictures as a necessary way of building awareness of the issue, in tandem with the efforts of Police Scotland, NSA and QMS. The Scottish Farmer did the same, despite the ‘graphic’ nature of the pictures. 
Calls were made for ScotGov t pay heed of this issue and seek to change the law, both as it pertains to countryside access with dogs and to the system of penalties in place for people who leave their pets unrestrained around livestock. 
Abruptly, the late winter ‘Beast from the East’ storm struck the country, leaving sheep farmers in the worst of the snow-hit areas struggling not only to find their stock, but to get out to them in the first place. 
With farming areas up and down the country particularly badly hit by snow, then winds from Storm Emma, snow drifts proved a nightmare, not only for sheep outside, but those in sheds too. 
It also left numerous roads impassable and with council workers battling away on main roads and motorways, many rural roads waited several days to be ploughed or gritted. 
One sheep farmer from near Stirling had major problems finding his sheep after snow drifts made access to where his flock were almost impossible. Speaking anonymously to the SF he explained: “The snow itself is bad enough, but it was the combination of wind and snow that caused the real issues as far as stock was concerned. When we got to them, we luckily didn’t have many ewes to actually dig out of drifts, but it was getting to them in the first place that was the biggest issue. Access roads for us were totally blocked and the council didn’t come near us, so it was up to ourselves and other local farmers to clear the roads. As much as anything, this also helped local residents, which was important when you look at how many families with kids were cut off.”
The horrible issue of suicide was once again to the fore as a farming charity urged the industry’s workers to start looking after themselves mentally as well as physically – highlighting the awful statistic that, on average, more than one agricultural worker a week in the UK dies by suicide. 
Levels of depression in the industry are thought to be increasing and suicide rates are among the highest in any occupational group. Risk of suicide was also higher amongst those in particular sectors, particularly livestock rearing, which has almost twice the national average. 
The Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind Farm Safety Week, identified stress as a key factor in many of the accidents, injuries and illnesses taking place on farms. 
Another satellite-tagged golden eagle went missing in an area dubbed ‘the black hole’ of Inverness-shire – and the RSPB infuriated game shooting interests in the area by pointing the finger of blame at them, ahead of any official verdict. Data from the two-year-old male bird’s satellite transmitter showed that it had been living in an upland area mainly managed for driven grouse shooting since early last year. The bird stayed almost exclusively in this area in mid-December 2017 when its tag, which had been functioning normally, stopped transmitting. 
Also in March, a study to look at the feasibility of using DNA traceability to help guarantee the authenticity of Scotch Beef PGI was commissioned by Quality Meat Scotland. 
The study followed a ‘period of engagement’ with different parts of the Scottish meat industry, to gauge support for the potential introduction of an officially DNA traceability system. 
“QMS has worked hard, alongside the Scottish red meat industry, to develop the Scotch Beef PGI brand which is now recognised throughout the world as an icon of quality” said QMS chairman Jim McLaren.
“Our marketing and communication activities over many years have ensured the Scotch Beef PGI brand is one of the most recognisable of all food brands in Scotland and importantly our market research shows that there is now a high level of understanding from consumers’ of what the brand stands for.”
As the snow from the Beast from the East continued to melt through to the end of the month, it revealed a graveyard of dead livestock that had been caught up in the wintery weather. 
The situation put immense pressure on fallen stock operators and the rendering industry, which struggled to cope with the sheer number of weather-related casualties, reportedly running into thousands.