WHAT A difference a year makes – cattle are now housed in great conditions, cold and breezy, six or seven weeks after they were forced in last year.

The fields they leave behind are green, not poached like last year, with plenty of good grazing to flush ewes, which are in great condition going to the tup so no doubt we will get too many triplets again, but I suppose that’s a price worth paying for fit ewes.

Finishing lambs are also thriving and although the price of lamb per kg is absolutely useless, the weight of the lambs hanging up is compensating for this to a degree. Michael added typhon to the grass seed mixtures and drilled it after the dry spell. The results have been fantastic.

I have never seen weight gain and finish in lambs quite like it in 40 years of trying. Once the lambs had grazed the young grass, they ate the leaves then the stalks of the typhon, then finally the bulbs.

Having finished hundreds of lambs on just over 50 acres of this mixture, the ewes then got their chance at the regrowth of grass and typhon. Because the typhon was so leafy, there were very few weeds in the new pasture which is also a bonus saving on spray. So, all in all, another tool in the toolbox for the future.

Lamb producers just can’t survive at current finished prices, particularly as direct support payments are cut. The headlines for a few Blackface tups at Lanark and Dalmally do not represent the reality of keeping Blackie ewes on most hill and upland farms in Scotland.

The future in these areas, with LFASS under immediate threat and direct payments under medium term threat, looks bleak if present market prices become the norm. A 'no deal' or 'crap deal' Brexit, the only two choices left that I can see, will make this situation even worse because sheepmeat relies so heavily on exports to the EU and the all powerful UK multiple retailers.

QMS will have no doubt met dozens of potential or existing customers in France, last week, at the amazing SIAL Food Show but the reality is price is what actually really matters. And if we aren’t competitive (ie cheap enough) then the French or anyone else for that matter won’t buy our products.

Any interruption to trade or increased costs courtesy of a seemingly inevitable crap Brexit deal will make this bloody difficult. The Government’s vain hope that the WTO would play ball on a trade deal has been shot down in flames, so like it or like it not, we need some kind of agreement from the French, in particular, or Scotch lamb may become nothing more than a niche product.

Michael Gove’s Agriculture Bill makes it clear that Westminster is totally ambivalent to rural Britain and our contribution both to society and the economy. Apart from wishing to turn the countryside into a play park for urban Britain to indulge themselves by creating habitats for the latest 'endangered species' as determined by the disciples of Chris Packham; or trying to recreate the image of Victorian Britain, where Michael Gove becomes Governor of India and we all plough a few acres with horses, the serious business of farming and food production continues to be ignored.

If you think I exaggerate, just read the report by Alan Manning, a government advisor on immigration, brilliantly dissected by James Porter in last week’s The Scottish Farmer. It is arrogant, condescending, dismissive drivel but it is what Westminster thinks of the importance of the countryside, what we do and what we produce.

It reminded me of Margaret Beckett many years ago when I got stuck into her at a meeting about the future of farming she had called in London. Despite my best efforts (and I wasn’t holding back I can assure you!), apart from pissing her off, I achieved nothing trying to argue the case for farming being important because of its contribution to the economy and food security.

She said and I quote: “Why should I worry about food security, Tesco and Sainsbury will look after that.” If you look at the attitude of the class of 2018 in Westminster, I’m afraid they still believe that. We have the cheapest food in Europe (and the worst diet to go with it), but it doesn’t matter a jot, they simply don’t give a damn.

We need to try and counter this, at least in Scotland, as I fear not only the battle but the war is lost in England. I remember Gordon Brown telling us after foot-and mouth-disease that there would be no more support for agriculture and, boy, has the Treasury stuck to that line for the last 16 years.

The English NFU, in its wisdom, decided they couldn’t take on government after that so they had to cosy up beside them and win their support back – big mistake! A couple of knighthoods and non-exec chairmen later and they are little more than suffered politely but certainly not influencers.

To a large extent Scotland has played the same game, but to a much more sympathetic government north of the Border. However, it hasn’t really taken us very far if you actually analyse it. So what about using an organisation which represents an industry that is really important in Scotland, does influence government and is listened to?

Step forward James Withers and Scotland Food and Drink, to create a Bord Bia-style organisation in Scotland? That body has served the Irish food industry so well.

We could link up much more closely with our world-renowned, well-connected drinks industry and stop pretending we can promote and represent a tiny wee food industry like the one we have in Scotland on a world stage amongst global players. We may well produce world class products, but we are fooling ourselves if we really believe we are selling them in a world class way.

It’s no accident we have the cheapest food in Europe and a £25 Blackface store lamb in Oban in September, or a £60 finished lamb in Stirling or Lanark, in October, sure as hell doesn’t look world class to me. So, pool all our resources in the food and drink industry under one roof with one strategy and a single focus.

Take the best of QMS, AHDB, and the other bodies in the sector that suck up resources by needing chairmen, boards, committees, buildings, equipment, back office functions etc, and put them in one place. Suspend compulsory levies until this is delivered and it can be proved that our hard earned cash can add value.

These levy bodies can use their reserves in the meantime, which means this would have to happen quickly. Unusual in our modern political world I know, but this would focus everyone’s minds on a solution – money always does. If the new body adds value to our bottom line and can prove it, it deserves support – if not, it doesn’t.

With the right leadership, people and direction it will work because we do actually have a great story to tell and some fantastic people working in our industry, producers, processors and professionals dedicated to the cause. So come on let’s do this all differently, what have we got to lose?

James, your time has come!