Farmers and farming, world-wide, are not in good shape.

I have come to this conclusion after spending some time this past month speaking to the many contacts I have around the globe. These connections have been made over many years through various ways – Holstein cows, travel, having many visitors here at home from about every corner of the world.

It was the 50/50 chance that we might have left the EU Club by now and that prompted me to check what was the likelihood of imports flooding into the UK from wherever it was cheap. It prompted the question – why is farming and the family farm in particular, having such a tough time.

There are a few exceptions, such as those on Grade 1 land; others who have diversified with income streams coming from outside pure farming; and a small percentage with niche businesses.

So, why are we falling behind the rest of society? We could be a bit to blame ourselves because we have continued to produce more – no matter what we grow or produce from an acre of land in the last 50 years we have increased quantity. Couple that with the desire of governments to keep inflation down as low as possible, aided and abetted by the large super-markets, and to a lesser degree, processor packers, thus leaving the primary producer with the crumbs to survive.

So, what is happening? For a start, there are a great deal fewer farmers in business today compared to 50 years ago. Let’s take Australian dairy farmers which pretty much mirrors what is happening around the world. In 1999, there were 38,000 dairy holdings. In 2018, there are just 2000.

In 2018 alone, 85 farmers and their families walked off their farms and left the problem to the banks! That is a very worrying situation, as is the fact that other sectors of farming in Oz are not much better.

The situation in Canada is not all smelling of roses either, with beef at 320/330p per kg, and milk at 36-37ppl with a supply system (that was introduced in 1969) under threat because of Donald Trump’s new trade deal with its neighbour.

My contact in the US was cautious. Things have improved since Trump came to power but 'we have a long way to go before US farming is in a good shape', he said. Nothing has really changed in the UK – get big (and you know what that means – borrow more money or get out!)

Is Scotland any different? Take milk as an example. Some Muller suppliers are on 26-27ppl, but when the milk boards ended in 1995, my last milk cheque was 26.3ppl. Yes, some milk producers are on just over 30p but that is still some way behind what it needs to be.

The beef sector which, in Scottish terms, has had around £1m per week removed from its income since the start of this year. One thing for sure, it has certainly destroyed primary beef supplier relations with processor packers.

I could not print some of the language used by beef farmers regarding their customers, given the anger and worry that has been caused. It will take some time for supplier/processor relations to mend and that will not even begin to happen until deadweight prices go above 365p per kg. How the losses of the last three months are going to be re-couped is another story.

As I write on Monday there's news that the beef price is beginning to come off the floor of around 340p, with some processors paying less for a few weeks!

Just a few days ago, an ex beef farmer, but still in the beef industry, suggested to me that there was a relatively easy way to solve the current beef crisis. He maintained, with only a handful of large processors in Scotland, if the largest 10 or 20 beef finishers put their heads together and halved their weekly kill, it would have an instant effect on the beef price. What's more, with so many cattle coming to abattoirs not properly finished, it would be a bonus in improving the quality of the product. So sayeth an ex-beef farmer!

However, my thinking is slightly different. After almost losing the auction marts for prime beef cattle in volumes nearly 20 years ago, following foot-and-mouth, when every time the processors dropped their price they were flooded with cattle and every time when the price rose, cattle were scarce. Even this week, I heard of decker loads of cattle being cancelled – why? Because some plants were increasing the beef price by as much as 7p this week, so you know what is going to happen now – prime cattle are going to be in short supply for at least a week or two.

After that – who knows? Certainly, much damage has been done, and can only result in a reduced beef sector. Unless this extreme volatility reduces, then many will leave the industry.

In the last month, I have met four farmers, all around 50 – two dairy, who sold off their cows and let their land out (one is now a joiner and the other an electrician); the other two had beef suckler herds.

They have both halved their cow numbers and become heavy goods vehicle drivers, looking after their cattle before and after their day job and at week-ends. Sounds like the Irish model for part time farmers.

That is not quite as bad as Ewan McIlwraith who wants to make farmers over 50 redundant. Do not ask me what they are going to live on, as only 20% of farmers of that vintage have private pensions and we would lose at least half of the industry’s work force, not to mention their knowledge and experience, which would be irreplaceable.

Now, if you were looking for a good night’s entertainment all you needed to do was attend the West Area’s YFC Talent Spot recently in Glasgow’s. I can still remember performing for Monklands YFC at Lanark when I was a nervous wreck – no sign of nerves last week with professionalism beaming out from all the clubs in every detail.

Unlike last year, I completely agreed with the judges on a difficult job well done. However, it was a close run competition with only a point dividing the first three and Biggar being a close fourth. A special mention must go to the opening act, Katrina Kennedy, who sang beautifully without any accompaniment.

It was with great sadness that the industry heard of the tragic death of John Hamilton, of Aikengall, Dunbar. Only a few days earlier, John was the perfect host to Jesme and I, giving us a tour of the family’s large farming enterprise, which is a great credit to him and his family.

He particularly wanted us to see his relatively new large slatted building, with it’s green rubber mats, and his type of cows. I told him it made me think I was in America, the only difference being that John’s cows were mostly red, and not black.

What a super guy, and a breath of fresh air to our industry! Our thoughts and sympathy have been with the family since that enjoyable visit. John was so full of life, it was a joy to have been in his company.

While I was doing my 'world research' I came across a different aspect in Germany regarding anaerobic digesters. Until that chat, my view of AD plants was that they were replacing food production, but the German thinking was that was what we need to do.

My contact had six near neighbours who had stopped beef or dairy production and installed plant to produce energy for the grid, with the digestate going back onto the land for the next crop. His argument was that we were producing too much food, so they switched to producing energy.

Finally, the winter just finished and it ended up being the third driest in 30 years and that's only because of the 4.5 inches rain we had in March, which was the wettest month this winter! We have no stock out yet but it is a long time since I saw so much grass so early, in this part of the world. The fear of fodder shortage last back-end never materialised, with plenty of silage still available as we go into, what could be, an early spring. Until now, I have not mentioned the dreaded 'B' word. Well, one can but dream! I became a European farmer in 1973 and I am going to remain a Scot, farming in Europe.