HAVING JUST tidied up two dump trailer loads of branches from the garden at Tower, I think it’s safe to say summer and the much-talked about drought is now officially over, at least in Sanquhar.

Despite the deluge which accompanied Storm Ali, fields remain remarkably dry and stock content. I don’t think I have ever seen so much grass at this time of year, certainly not grass like this with any real feed value or fields that are fit to carry stock to graze it.

So, despite some of the doom and gloom and the picture of Armageddon painted by many during the dry spell in the summer, we could stand many more summers like it I can assure you. In comparison to a year ago, when almost all our cows and calves were housed by now and the fields were like swamps, this is infinitely more enjoyable.

Interestingly, the harbingers of doom that foresaw hunger, starvation, no harvest or straw to speak of seem to have finally shut up. It seems most folk have had a reasonable harvest, with acceptable yields for the most part and lots of extra straw has been baled and can be got if you look hard enough, even without bothering the Bank of England for a loan the size of quantitative easing it would seem!

The demise of bioethanol refiners, Vivergo and Ensus, is certain to have a impact on wheat prices in the UK as well, so the price of feeding cattle and sheep does not need to be as scary as the doom-mongers predicted either. As someone who has just retired from a 'second career' (or maybe third, I can’t really remember) in the bio-fuels sector' I could never 'get' the financial proposition of bioethanol being produced from a food crop in the UK, namely wheat.

When the price of wheat made sense to the refiner, growers were screwed; and conversely when wheat made real margins for growers, the refiners couldn’t make it work. So it was never going to fly.

Blaming a lack of government support is a convenient excuse for a business model which was fundamentally flawed from day one. Renewable energy production should only consume waste products and I’m sorry, but that should apply to anaerobic digesters, biomass ... the lot. Growing crops in the UK to feed biogas plants is financially unsustainable just as growing wheat for bioethanol has proved to be.

Subsidising electricity or gas generation from subsidised agriculture is difficult to justify in any circumstances, but particularly now with pressure to reduce or scrap direct payments for farming and proposals for capping bigger farmers. Does this mean one of the richest families in Scotland, who are in receipt of a big percentage of support for digesters, will have their payments capped or reduced as well – of course they won’t and why should they?

Good luck to those involved, but for most I am afraid the AD revolution, just like bioethanol, is coming to an end. There are already too many plants without secure raw material supplies that built their business models on charging gate fees for their feedstocks and now have to pay for raw material and are in serious financial difficulty. Turning to farmland to grow the feedstock is simply not the answer for a long term secure business model.

Similarly, burning straw or imported wood products in large-scale biomass plants is equally precarious and difficult to justify, with double support payments in this sector too. I have seen an amazing supply chain of US wood coming in by ship to Liverpool and onwards by train to a subsidised biomass plant in the North-east of England that also burns huge quantities of straw. How can US imports subsidised by us (UK taxpayers), be a greener way to generate electricity?

Frankly, it’s bollocks and won’t last, never mind the financial impact on livestock farmers in a year like this, where straw is scarcer than normal.

As support for primary food production continues to be threatened , if the proposals in Michael Gove’s Agriculture Bill are anything to go by, these 'double rewards' supporting other sectors, some of them inextricably linked with primary food production and agriculture, need to be exposed. As the prospect of a 'no deal' Brexit becomes more likely every week, we need to be more vocal in this regard.

As an industry, we have never had a better opportunity to publicise and champion the value to the country of home-produced food and food security. In the midst of the media frenzy about Armageddon taking place with a hard Brexit, next March, where are our voices saying 'Excuse me, we can ensure our country won’t starve?'

We may be whispering this in the corridors of power, but frankly that’s not the right audience as most politicians at the moment are only interested in feeding their own egos and career prospects, not the country. Rooftops, ladies and gentlemen, we need to be shouting this from the rooftops, forcibly and confidently.

At the moment we seem to be embarrassed to even mention supporting food production to a wider audience although we love talking about it amongst ourselves. Even something as non-contentious as £12m a year to continue to support stocking the hills with cattle and sheep that are needed in the food chain, never mind the environmental benefits of LFASS, is being whispered to the Scottish Government when it should be getting shouted at them!

We've sat back in our easy chairs for too long as Irish meat firms take over our meat industry because they are professional, tough, well-funded and ambitious. We have allowed the UK supermarkets to dominate the whole food supply chain in the UK with hardly a blink or a murmur. They are in the main professional, tough, well-funded and ambitious as well, and good luck to them!

We need those that speak for food producers to be as professional and tough as those that we have to deal with, including politicians, who are more used to a proverbial kicking and verbal going over than any other group I know and keep coming back for more.

If we wait for politicians, like Michael Gove, to tell us what he will do to help develop or support food production then maybe AD or biomass plants will be all that’s left. Even the Scottish government, despite the importance of food and drink to our economy, appear almost totally impotent.

Chucking a few quid at a lamb marketing campaign certainly hasn’t been the answer, any more than stabbing LFA farmers and crofters in the back by reducing their support. So where’s the substance not just the rhetoric?

This is glorious opportunity for our industry to get on the front foot and plant our stake on the Brexit battlefield with pride and conviction about what we do. We produce food and we should be bloody proud of it, not apologetic. Just as the Millennium Bug didn’t stop the planet turning, nor will Brexit.

But we can’t sit here like victims – we need to get out there and sell ourselves and what we produce. If we don’t, who else will?