The year-end accounts always tell their story.

At one time – when I did the books myself with pen and calculator – it was a lengthy and tedious job. Now, although the business is much more complicated, with data entered by our excellent part time secretary, the computer makes reviewing the past year simple and enjoyable.

My early years were spent as a hill farmer. Success or failure depended on the commodity market for lamb, to a lesser extent on the annual calf sale and the hill subsidy.

When we moved 26 years ago to Roxburgh Mains, I followed the path my predecessor had trod. Our main product was wheat, followed by barley and oilseed rape. Cattle and sheep sales were relatively minor.

The cattle we ran had evolved over the previous decade from using Charolais bulls on Angus/Shorthorn cows to pedigree Aberdeen-Angus. Management, apart from registration costs, was little different from what it had always been. We did not have much market for bulls then, so most of the males and surplus females went into the meat industry.

The first three years at Roxburgh Mains were a bonanza as wheat prices were the same as they are now, with costs miniscule in comparison. Unfortunately, at the first rent break, my rent was raised by almost 50% and immediately afterwards BSE crucified the beef industry, cereal prices collapsed and in the late 1990s, sheep too were unprofitable.

In 1999, draft ewe prices hardly covered the cost to market. At that time we had one employee and the arable work was done through the Borders Machinery Ring.

Nowadays, our farm product has moved away from the commodity market – although, as our clients depend on it, it still has an influence – into breeding animals. The Aberdeen-Angus is the mainstay of our cattle operation and we sell Suffolk and Texel rams.

We employ three full time and one part time employees, and the Borders Machinery Ring still do the arable work and extra grassland is rented in summer.

For generations our farm year ended on May 28 – 'the May Term'. It suited hill farming as lambing was over and, although the hill lamb markings were still to come, a reasonable estimate could be made of the stock on the farm.

About 15 years ago, for subsidy reasons, we had to move our year-end forward a month. This actually suited the now earlier farm with its different enterprises.

Our profit and loss account is now much more comprehensive than when I did the books manually, so our successes and failures are quickly seen and the appropriate action can be taken timeously. The most recent accounts show that our cattle income is up 8% and our sheep income is down 4% on last year.

We know why the sheep were down so, hopefully, we can sort the problem out. Our Single Farm Payment is down 10% as expected, so we will have to find something to make up the loss. All in all our output is 0.78% up.

Most of our costs have been contained except, again as we had anticipated, the huge increase in bedding. This was despite our efforts to keep this down by trying alternative materials and by out-wintering cattle on stubbles.

At the end of it all, our profit is 8% down so, in these inflationary times, we can’t rest on our laurels.

We continue to look at ways to make things better. I have an article from a recent farming journal in front of me advising me to minimise overheads, set goals and budgets, benchmark, understand the market, be open to change and innovation and to specialise. In short, try harder!

Others I read are more specific. We are well aware of our shortcomings in modern grassland management and are trying harder there.

Our cropping techniques evolve only slowly. It has been my observation that many of what were considered at the time breakthroughs in cereal growing have had little positive influence on profitability.

We have moved soil analysis from manual sampling to satellite. Whether that will make us richer or whether only supply more detail remains to be seen.

So what now? We continue with our reseeding programme. Two adjoining fields have been under sown – one with a mixture containing white clover and the other without it. We will adjust management to see which is the most profitable.

Last years’ reseed, a 40-acre field, has been split into eight and is heavily stocked – the early spring has made appropriate stocking levels a different challenge from last year.

Last year’s dry summer has hit the sown grasses hard but not alas the grass weeds. I read endlessly of techniques to control blackgrass and volunteer ryegrass in cereals. At home, we do a pretty good job on sterile brome and wild oats but haven’t mastered annual meadow grass.

I replied to the recent SNFU questionnaire about thoughts for the future. We have not made any policy changes due to Brexit. I hoped that things would stay about where they are now but that this would depend on whether or not we left the EU with a deal on tariffs.

I also replied that I am confident about the future. Why?

During my working lifetime, increasing yield has mitigated static grain prices. As yields have stabilised, my optimism for cereals is qualified.

New high performance sheep breeds are adding to commercial flock masters’ profitability. Performance recording – unfortunately only in the terminal breeds and then only to an extent – is gaining acceptance by commercial ram buyers.

We can also now isolate parts of the bovine genome and harness them to raise output, reduce costs and combat disease. Grass varieties produce 12 tonnes from 225kg N compared to 10 tonnes from 350kg N in 1990 – a very positive message in environmentally sensitive times.

Technology will be our saviour – for those who embrace it.