Firstly, let me clear up a little confusion caused by the headlines last month – ‘time for beef cattle to be housed all year?’ – as my colleagues know, we do not write the headlines!

James Porter was absolutely right when he said housing in cubicles, or similar, could make sense, but surely not in summer? It was certainly not my intention to give the impression that beef cattle should be housed all year round.

What I said was: “I only see a reduction in the availability of straw and timber by-products continuing, thus resulting in a cost increase that livestock farmers cannot afford. Hence why I think the beef sector needs to follow dairy farmers in housing all beef cattle” – I should have been more explicit by emphasising ‘winter housing’.

As a grassland farmer and in the part of Scotland that can grow grass, we try to utilise it the best way we can. It is our cheapest feed to grow. Unfortunately, that is sometimes curtailed by rainfall and how I would love to have James’ rainfall and his free-draining land. Hope this clarifies things.

I am going to add to the debate because since that headline which caused James Porter to respond, I have had a few beef farmers, including my son, tell me that the headline was absolutely correct, but needs qualifying by saying that it is mainly for the final period for finishing cattle that it is most beneficial!

There are many beef cattle finished on grass alone, plus others, who hopper feed at grass from July onwards. I personally know a few who finish over a 1000 cattle per year from grass and hoppers, or a TMR in bunkers plus grass, which saves on bedding and muck-spreading.

I congratulate our good friend, Andrew Laughton, from Lincolnshire, on being awarded the UK ‘Beef Farmer of the Year’ – a much deserved accolade for one who, just four years ago, suffered the most horrendous aggro from a vegan do-gooder, who came to live in his local village. The length these people went to in the hope that they would destroy his business was unbelievable, but he survived and runs the most impressive beef finishing unit I have seen anywhere in the world.

A few days before he got that accolade, he stepped up to the role of chairman of the National Beef Association, following the retiral of David Thomlinson, of H and H. at Carlisle. David has steered the N.B.A. through a period of difficulty, which is now in a much more stable position. Andrew will continue to drive the NBA forward at the highest level.

It is two years since Jesme and I had a great trip with Eddie Gillanders and his North-east beef group to Kansas, so last month we set off with Bay Farm Tours to explore some of Europe, in the company of three Scots and 30 English farmers. I will omit all of the touristy stuff that we enjoyed, but this is a country that has a target to become nuclear free soon, which means there are turbines everywhere and solar panels by the thousand!

Our first farm visit was to a 4000 ha organic arable farm. His crops were potatoes, wheat, rape, barley – all harvested except the pumpkins, soya and maize – and no cattle. The 220ha of potatoes were all in boxes in his cold store next to his grading and pack house and sold through a co-op to smaller supermarket chains. His current price was €400 per tonne and all harvested by contractor with an average cost of €75/ha plus his BPS was €280/ha. The local land value was €35,000-€40,000/ha.

We also stopped in a 35,000 ha wine growing area where our host grew 35ha of grapes, producing 6500 litres/ha, all processed through his own facilities and sold mostly through their restaurant or wine shop. We had a wine tasting experience that confused me completely!

Next stop was in Slovakia on a former state-run farm of 4500ha – 25 years ago it had 11,000 staff and today there are 220, spread over five units, growing eight different crops – wheat, barley, sunflowers, sugar beet, poppies, maize, grass and vines, plus 1500 head of livestock with 450 US-bred Holstein cows producing 34 litres/day at 32c/litre (about 29p) at an average yield/cow of 10,500 litres. Some 1500 pigs were finished for pork and 50 farm staff made machinery for use on arable farms – both on their own and for other arable farmers.

A bio-digester was installed four years ago that consumes 20 tonnes per day of half maize silage and the other half cow slurry. The dry digestate was spread in cubicles, with liquid spread on the land. This unit even had its own abattoir, two farm shops and a total turnover of €20m!

Also in Slovakia, we visited an all grass organic farm of 300ha with 150 beef cows, which were never housed, other than at calving. There were 100 US-bred Charolais (with no big back-sides), plus 50 Highlanders. All progeny were finished as rose veal, killed at 330kg live and either used through their own restaurant, or shop in 9kg packs, with the surplus veal going to a local co-op, owned by the local farmers.

This farmer was an inspiration to listen to, having followed his father on what he called a small farm that the communists did not commandeer. He was in his 70s with a son and daughter following in his footsteps, and had spent some time in the US working on several large beef units and came back with the view that European genetics were all wrong, especially the EUROP grading system!

Hence the reason he imported US Charolais embryos and semen, which he continues to do. His Highlanders originally came from Scotland and he now uses Belgian genetics as sires.

Variety is the spice of life, so next visit was to an apple juice farmer. This young man was processing 200 tonnes of apples/year – from 100kg of apples you get 70kg of juice, with the left over pulp going back to a livestock farmer. Seeing the processing of these apples took me back about 60 years when Ronnie Bartlett’s grandfather started washing tatties. They poured the apples into what we in Scotland would call a byre grip (a narrow channel) full of running water, where they floated on the water before falling into a turning perforated barrel, out the other side into an apple press when the juice came out the bottom and the pulp out the top. From then on it was ultra modern with the juice being pasteurised before being packed into various sizes of containers.

On to the Czech Republic, we travelled through what looked like some of the best land in Europe and the host farm was mind boggling. Known as Spearhead International and managed for the past 17 years by Ian Dykes, son of two well-known farmers, John and Kate Dykes, and brother of Hamish, the TV farming star! He looks after some 27,000ha in four units.

It would take several pages to do this outfit justice, so here's a small snippet of its vast scale. There are 1620 dairy cows, plus young stock, split between two units, with all cattle permanently housed, as is the case virtually everywhere we visited. He can grow every crop he requires, with the grain unit being capable of handling 200 tonnes of grain per hour, plus storage capacity to cope with up to 80 combines working on any one day from a variety of crops.

Next stop was a technical pig handling unit and bio-digester which takes 50 tonnes per day of pig slurry and silage from a pit that measured 500 feet long by 150-feet wide, holding some 20,000 tonnes of maize silage – I did not fancy the job of sheeting it! He has a total of 350 the and his BPS per acre is a little higher than what we get in Scotland – and he enjoys a 24-inch annual rainfall. The attention to detail has to be seen to be believed.

Another interesting anecdote came from an 85-year-old goat farmer, owning 300ha, milking 600 white goats, producing1500 litres per day and all processed on farm into 10 different types of product, which was delivered to shops and small supermarkets within a 50-mile radius, plus his own farm shop. He even had two supermarkets that came to him for some of his products!

There wasn't a lot of staff, with his wife and three other ladies doing the processing, his son did the marketing, with delivery assistance, and two men looked after and milked the goats through a 21-21 fast exit parlour. Their diet was alfalfa round bales with oats mixed with peas fed in the parlour.

Our last farm stop was a 147ha unit – which, like most others, was in a village – milking 60 Canadian Holstein-type cows through a robot, yielding 10,500 litres. Father was in his 80s and had, like most farmers of that age group, spent 15 years in jail when the communists took over, before being released and his land was reclaimed after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 led by activist, Lech Wolenska. His son and daughter-in-in law and their son, who had just started agri-college, had told his mother that when he finished college he did not want to milk cows (I think mother felt the same way!).

There were 12 red Angus cows rearing calves, on what was a rare sight, grazing grass. Only on four occasions did we see cattle grazing, with most being housed all the year round and so no fences divided the different crops.

Hopefully, I have given you a flavour of what we saw in this fertile part of the EU where you could view vast fields of 300 or even 500 acres in size and well farmed with large, modern farm machinery.

We asked on every farm visit if they could operate without BPS and had the answer loud and clear – 'no chance' – which begs a question for the EU, how in the future is the population of Europe going to be fed? It appeared to me only either by some form of support, or food prices to the consumer will have to rise by 12 to 15%, similar to that which happened in New Zealand.