Being my last column of the year, it's time to reflect on the past 12 months – but I'm wondering if I should remind you!

From January until about the June 10, for most of us it was near perfect farming conditions. Since then, with the exception maybe of the Eastern side from Angus to the south-east corner, it will go down in the history books as one we would all like to forget.

Even on December 1 there were a few forage harvesters working in Ayrshire with the aim of ensiling grass. I was also hearing of some absolutely horrendous accounts of the lack of feed, due to forage shortages, right up and down the western half of Scotland. I am also led to believe it is the same on the West of Ireland.

I am reliably informed that the number of beef cull cows going through sale rings is up more than 5%, compared to October and November last year, with dairy cows not far behind. No doubt some of that is because of feed shortage, coupled with higher bedding costs.

There are also a number of beef herd dispersals taking place, so I asked a West Coast auctioneer what his thoughts were on what appears to be a significant reduction in beef cows. His answer was clear – he said the next generation were not going to calve cows and lamb ewes for the low returns that they receive ... simple as that!

He maintained that there was a whole generation right now, who go to college or university after school and then find jobs with much higher pay packets than they would ever get from farming livestock. He argued that all this talk about young people wanting to get into farming, is nonsense – he heard more about those wanting to get out of farming!

So, with those thoughts in my mind I have taken a look much closer to home. In fact, if you take a look on the map inside the square encompassed by the A73, M8, M73 and M80 there are around 30 farms at this moment in time. There are less than a third of these farms who have successors who will be farmers in the future.

I accept that I farm in the heart of the industrial belt in Scotland, where it is more attractive for the following generations to do work that is more financially rewarding than farming. But, I must admit it was a sobering thought, having done this analysis, that two-thirds of my neighbouring units will not be farmed in 20 plus years time by the present incumbents. Hopefully, this is a unique part of Scotland because of its location and therefore it does not mirror the rest of the farming landscape. But, I hear regularly about farming situations where either the next generation does not want to farm, or there is not a successor to follow.

This can only mean that in the future there will be fewer farmers and those that are left will become larger.

What is driving this change? It has to be driven by one thing – 'economics'! As an example, the other day, I spoke to a young suckler cow farmer (probably not yet 50) who had a discussion round the table with his two teenage children. The question was – who would want to be a beef farmer when the cows nearly all calve through the night?

Having calved thousands of dairy cows over 50 years, I can confirm that 80% do calve through the night. According to those teenagers it is no different with beef cows!

One of the best investments I made 40 years ago was to install cameras in the calving pens with a monitor at my bedside. Today, you can have it on your mobile phones!

Now I have been commenting on the reduction of beef cows, but I am afraid the situation is similar with dairy cows, in spite of an improved milk price. We are all well aware of the high profile herds, like the Mairs, at Turriff, but I can tell you that there are several more that I am hearing about who are exiting with a much lower profile.

They are selling their cows as they calve, which is obviously over a period of time and that was before one of the seminars I attended at AgriScot! Let’s take the second seminar first, run by the Scottish dairy hub where I acquired two very clear messages – 1, the returns procured by milk producers in the future will be volatile and 2, if you are not planning to be in the game of milking cows, long term, then now is the time to exit dairying.

The panel were addressing a mainly younger audience, included Chris Walkland, an analyst and journalist; Shelagh Hancock, the new CEO at First Milk; Gwyn Jones, the AHDB Dairy chair who was trained as an engineer with Rolls Royce and now milking a large number of cows in the south of England; and Gary Mitchell, NFUS vice-president, who milks cows in South-west Scotland.

One could be slightly critical in saying there was not generations of experience on the panel. Maybe that was a good thing, to help encourage a whole raft of fresh thinking, but that did not materialise! Ken Rundle made an excellent job of chairing this question time, but once you sorted the chaff out from the grain, the message had not changed.

The other seminar was a different kettle of fish, chaired by the AgriScot's retiring chairman, Andrew Moir, with Andrew McCornick, NFUS president and CabSec Fergus Ewing going head-to-head. It was the first time I had heard both speakers – and first impressions were favourable.

Andrew Mccornick is probably the right man in the right place at this time, when so much is at stake with our divorce from the EU. I have no doubt he says things as he sees them, which will, coming as he does from the Newton Stewart area, be with no frills!

Fergus Ewing has a hard act to follow on from Richard Lochhead, whom I still believe has been the best farm minister we have ever had. As a professional politician, Fergus might have said all the right things that the packed house wanted to hear, but would say I would much prefer him fighting our corner than Westminster's Michael Gove, who does nothing to inspire! Fergus is a lawyer from the rough and tumble of Glasgow, and seems to be acclimatising into this farming role.

The one clear message that came from both was that we need to get away from the area based support which this column described at the time of it’s introduction, as an utter shambles. Both also seem to have struck up a good rapport, which bodes well for a good working relationship, which is vital for the challenges ahead. I wish them well in saving Scottish farming from the ravages of Westminster and some of the headless chickens in government.

Finally, I had a few days last week in Aberdeenshire, where I was speaking at McIntosh-Donald's awards ceremony, where more than 100 beef finishers enjoyed Alan McNaughton’s hospitality in one of Aberdeen’s top hotels. Some thought-provoking questions were generated from my presentation, especially regarding my thoughts on the EUROP method of grading cattle which this column has said many times, is way past its sell by date!

Unfortunately, by the time you read this article, we beef finishers will be suffering, hopefully, a slight reduction in our cattle killed this week. It appears that the peak for the time being was the last week in November.

I can remind beef finishers that the highest peak was November, 2013, when we hit 420p per kg, which was as a result of the 'horsegate' scandal that began in March. Let’s hope the Christmas fever clears the chills to near empty.

The reality is that I do not believe there is an excess of prime cattle in the pipe-line, so that should mean that any price reduction should be minimal.

If the values that butchers have been prepared to pay at the various events up and down the country are a guide to what quality Scotch beef is worth, then there is plenty of hope for the future.