By Jamie Blackett

‘Up corn, down horn’ was bad enough, then we had to contend with finished cattle being turned away by abattoirs when the supply chain filled every chiller with (mostly Irish?) beef as retailers fussed about Brexit – and then, the final twist of the knife, Veganuary, started with a CBE for a certain high profile vegan TV presenter.

The Campaign for Random Accusations against Pastoralists – I’ll spare you the acronym – plumbed new depths this year. And worryingly it changed the buying habits of yet more consumers with some reports, possibly fake news, stating exponential year on year growth of non-meat products, including, bizarrely, petfood.

It’s enough to turn a man to drink, but better to read Kipling’s poem ‘If’ instead, especially the bit about 'being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating.’

For there is no doubting the visceral hatred that some vegans have for British farming (as opposed to nice, friendly soya cultivation in the Amazon valley). These people are the inheritors of the leftist apparatus that once marched to ban the bomb and, in a post-religious age, this is the new faith for some, containing, as it does, a heady mixture of environmentalism, health obsession, animal rights and anti-capitalism.

They are impervious to reason. (I made the mistake of getting into a twitter spat with a vegan blogger who refused to accept that leather is a by-product of the livestock industry)! And they won’t let the facts get in the way as they ruthlessly bend the scientific community and the media to their will.

If you want a masterclass in black propaganda, watch Cowspiracy on Netflix. It bewails the volume of water required to produce a kg of beef. Really? Have these people ever been to Galloway? The trouble is if you are facing a hosepipe ban in Kent, it is all too believable.

Against this level of ignorance we should be winning the argument but palpably we are not. Much more serious are the swithering consumers who now have a hazy notion that beef is bad for you and bad for the planet and think 'better cut down then’.

Here, Kipling would say, 'If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.’ We need to keep believing in what we do but we need to be much better at communicating and we also need to be prepared to change if necessary to meet consumer concerns.

In return for our subscriptions and levies we need leadership from our farming organisations, who need to prioritise the defence of our industry above yet more complex quality assurance schemes (do consumers, still less overseas competitors pay any attention to them?) and come up with a coherent plan.

First, communication. We all need to play our part in winning the arguments – especially young farmers on social media – but we need facts. We need to be able to say how many green miles our cars can travel on the tallow our beasts produce each year, how many tonnes of whale killing plastic is displaced by leather and so on.

We need to know as much about the nutrition of feeding meat to humans as we do about feeding total mixed rations to cattle. We all need to become experts on the carbon sequestration of pasture and the biology of what comes out of the back of our cattle, and conversely the environmental damage that would be done if the planet went all arable.

Support here comes from an unexpected source on my Christmas reading list, the bestseller 'Wilding', by Isabella Tree, which I recommend you read, not because you will agree with it all, you won’t (expecially the chapter on beavers) but to understand some of the ideas that are now influencing politicians and consumers.

In fact, the book describes a very extensive livestock farming enterprise at Knepp Castle, on the Sussex Weald, made possible by a hefty stewardship grant, a canny tourism enterprise and a farm shop butchery. The critical factor in their astonishing success with regenerating native wildlife has been grazing by their herbivores, particularly longhorn cattle taking the place of the prehistoric aurochs.

It is actually not dissimilar to some of the grazing systems on marginal ground here in Galloway! Bovines really do belong in the British countryside.

Wilding also debunks the myth that Britain was ever covered with close-canopy forest, which makes the Scottish Government’s obsession with exporting our food production while blanketing the hills with wildlife-unfriendly sitka spruce (origin North Pacific) even more peculiar.

Secondly and longer term, we need to be open to change to ‘make allowance for their doubting’. Previous contributors have focussed on the need to replace the EUROP grid with a system that rewards taste and texture. Quite right, but increasingly the housewife wants taste, texture and the right omega-3s. If she can’t get it from British beef she will have no qualms about sourcing it from elsewhere.

There are already South American ‘grass fed beef’ brands on the shelves. Are we being too ‘aye bin’ in response, reinforcing failure by sticking to barley based systems and not making the most of our near unique ability to grow grass in Scotland? Currently, the only way to sell a premium grass-fed product seems to be to freeze one’s nuts off at farmer’s markets every weekend, open a farm shop (in the middle of nowhere?!) or faff about with mail-order – not very easy with the output from 200 cows.

But what if the combined brain power of our industry could develop a world-beating, pasture-fed product? One that leaves a decent margin with much lower input costs, ideally backed up by a post-Brexit Kiwi-style co-operative with real power and reach in the marketplace.

How would we go about that? Too little space in this column but probably finishing at much lower weights with breeds that fatten easily without heaps of grain, clever nutrition, inevitably greater seasonality, a simple test at the abattoirs that measures fatty acids and a marketing campaign that turns consumer concerns about health and the environment into positives.

It would be a change that politicians could support as a justification for continuing subsidies post Brexit to reward public goods (and keep the playing field level). We have 44 weeks to get our act together before next Veganuary, 'Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.'

* Jamie Blackett's book 'Red Rag to a Bull, Rural Life in an Urban Age', published by Quiller, is out now. He farms at Arbigland, on the Solway coast. Jim Walker is on holiday and will be back next month.