Judging by the amount of requests that I have had lately, it seems that there are a significant number of my fellow farmers recording their rainfall, and want to know what my records have shown for 2018.

At 33.25 inches, it was the fifth driest year in the last 30 years – 2003 was the driest, at 25.75 inches. However, what was unique about 2018 was that last January only recorded five inches. The only other month to have a remarkable reading was February, 1997, with that year ending up with a 32.75 inches rainfall. The month with the highest rainfall over all these years was December, 1994, at 9.5 inches.

Now, many people are not going to like this next bit. Back in March, 2017, I hinted that because of the relatively dry winter of 2016-2017, we might have a wetter summer than we would like, which, unfortunately turned out to be true, so my guess is that unless we have lots of rain in February and March, eg around eight inches, then my hopes for a repeat of last year’s summer might be a dream!

After seeing the feature in this publication of 19-01-19 about Scotland’s Special Food Show in the SEEC Glasgow, Jesme and I decided we would go along and see how our industry was being promoted in Scotland’s largest city.

Sadly, we were disappointed because less than a quarter of that large building was covered with food and drink stands. There was no beef or lamb, but pork did feature, thanks to Tom Mitchell, from Clentrie Farm, Auchtertoul, with his brand 'Puddledub Pork'. This was the only stand we noticed promoting red meat and I can tell you it was good!

The rest of the area was beautifully set up with all sorts of craft trade stalls, all looking for a market to take their wares. The work was most attractive, from jewellery, knitted items, scarves, glassware, tartan in a variety of forms, including kilts, jackets, soft toys, cushions and stationery so it was an interesting visit.

One wag on a drinks stand who was promoting our national beverage was asked if vegans drank his product, to which he replied: "I heard the other day if I go on a vegan diet with no whisky, my life span would be shortened!”

Now some good news and some not so good news. I am sure that most farmers are aware of the English farm minister’s view on the export of live cattle from our islands, which is to ban all live exports. If that were to happen, I suspect that the UK might possibly be the only country in the world to be so stupid.

Take our nearest neighbours, Ireland, where a couple of weeks ago they loaded a 1000 420kg bulls onto a boat that took just over a week to reach Libya, having already taken 5500 head in 2018. A friend in Ireland tells me that in the next two months Ireland will have more than 1.5m calves born, with the majority of them being exported live by trucks on ferries, mostly to the EU, with some going elsewhere in the world, yet this Westminster so-called government want to ban the tiny fraction that we export!

Another scary figure from across the Irish Sea is that their weekly kill is between 30,000 and 40,000 clean cattle per week with between 50 and 60% coming to the UK. In Scotland, we average 7500 clean cattle per week and right now that appears to be too many.

I was asked the other day if Scotland’s beef sector was in crisis? If we look at the difference in the deadweight price per kg between December and January last year and this year, which is almost 20p/kg less on a decker load of prime cattle, which is around 34-35 animals. With an average weight of 360kg at 20p, that equals £72 and comes to £2500 less per load.

Whether you are a finisher or a breeder finisher, I do not think you will have been making much of a margin this past two months. Hopefully, some will have bucked the system.

So the answer has to be, if the beef sector is not in a crisis now it soon will be if values do not improve soon. What has caused this downturn in margins?

For a start, the Scotch beef premium has virtually gone. Historically, it was worth anywhere between 5-15p/kg. Now that the UK and Ireland are controlled by the three big Irish companies, this must be a factor.

When these mergers and take-overs took place a short time ago, some of us feared the inevitable would happen and I am afraid this has materialised. It will undoubtedly be a challenge for Scotch beef to regain it’s premium again and I certainly hope it does. Margins have been further eroded by much higher feed costs and bedding.

Beef sales, at this time of year have always had a tendency to be sluggish following the Christmas festivities, with credit card payments coming home to roost. There is a feeling that it is more prevalent this year and you could couple that with the elephant in the cupboard – Brexit.

On top of that there seems to be much more Irish beef around, especially south of the Border. Rumour has it that it is being packed into chills before the end of March! Who knows?

One thing for certain is that beef margins will take a turn for the better. I started our beef enterprise in 1972 and there certainly have been some ups and downs over the years. Usually one thing sorts it out – 'supply'. We might have an over-supply just now, but sure as night follows day, a shortage will arrive and it might just be closer than some pundits think.

As in the past, the surest route for survival is to cut all spending to the bone and further if need be. Unfortunately, farming has always been volatile, but it does seem that these ups and downs come with more frequency and severity today.

In a few days time the bull sales at Stirling should give us a guide as to how much demand there is for sires, following the perceived reduction in cows due to the high numbers of cull cows going through the rough cow rings this past few months. I certainly know of three herds that have gone or are going by spring time, from whom I have bought stores for several years.

Maybe next week will give us an indication as to how wide-spread suckler cow reduction is, or is not taking place!

Brexit: Should farmers be worried and concerned about the effect it might have on our business? I see advice from some so-called experts, that we should be planning for 'Life after Brexit', but how can we plan in any form when we do not have a clue what the situation is going to be, come April.

This uncertainty of what the future holds is certainly holding back planning and investment in what appears to be a very uncertain future for our industry. With a 'no deal' scenario, not only are we facing unchartered times, our nearest neighbours, Ireland, who rely massively on the UK for their exports, particularly for beef, have a farm minister and an EU Commissioner in Phil Hoggan, who will look after them. We certainly cannot rely on Gove to do that, which leaves Fergus Ewing with a massive task.

Now that we know so much more of the facts, I am afraid it has made me think with the majority of those in The SF's poll, that maybe we should go for another referendum?