WE ARE certainly into back-end weather, with the days becoming shorter and nights a lot longer; the trees turning from bright green to orange and yellow autumn tints – yet grass, here in the northern tip of Lanarkshire, is still growing in what has been one of the greatest grass growing years I can remember.

We cannot complain about the year so far for farming, with an early spring and the only blip being August when we had 5 inches of rain, making it the wettest month so far of 2019. Total rainfall for this year to date is 22.75" compared to the Gleaner with 17.5", which is closer to the figure that we would historically be!

With just a day to go before the end of the month, the rain gauge is at 3.5", our summer six months will total 19", which is close to the average for this tiny part of Scotland.

In spite of some of the eastern parts of Scotland having had more rain than normal, it seems that harvest has nearly come to an end, albeit it has been a bit catchy at times. My arable friends who farm in God’s country seem well pleased, with some very high yields of grain compensating for the lower prices. The other big acreage crop still to complete harvesting is potatoes, which certainly looked very good a few months ago. I even heard of fields being sprayed with water in East Lothian, as the soil was too dry for lifting, while, the opposite was found in Morayshire, usually dry, where even the tattie harvesters were being stuck, which shows how we have such contrasting conditions in our small country.

A few days ago we had a visit from our farm minister, Fergus Ewing, and we had a short tour of our beef unit before lunch, when we discussed every aspect of the beef sector, both here in Scotland and worldwide, from my son’s view of removing all support because it encouraged inefficiency, which would be doubtful to achieve universal support, to how we help the sector survive through this extremely difficult period, which was well covered in detail by Patsy Hunter on page 18 last week.

Fergus is certainly well up to speed on the situation of our industry. How he solves the challenges ahead is much more difficult, especially when the uncertainty of what is likely to take place in Westminster is so unclear. Even the arrival of the much fought for convergence cash, with the cheque still not yet in the post, poses many ideas and views about how it is to be divided up!

We certainly do not want to come up with a scheme that is not computer friendly. We preferably need one that sets a precedent for IT distribution similar to the beef calf scheme, which I support as a means of keeping cows on our less favoured land along with sheep if we are to keep Scotland’s much cherished landscape looking the way it currently does.

Otherwise all we will have are docks, threshes, weeds, straggly self-seeded trees, and unkempt hedges on virtually every acre of our country, and if you want to see what that looks like, there is a small 85 acre farm next to me that has not been farmed for at least 10 to 12y ears, and it is not a pretty sight.

Fortunately that is not what Fergus (or I) want to see happen to our countryside. Look how much tidier it is now that we have been allowed to cut the hedges this past month and in our case, since the Council have stopped trimming grass verges, we have also trimmed them which makes a really tidy job on our country road.

I have always had a soft spot for our native Highland Cattle, probably enhanced several years ago when I bought two Highland steers that grazed our field next to the house, but more importantly they have been the only stores I have ever bought that doubled their money, in their 150 days here! When I saw in this publication that the West of Scotland Highlander Club were holding an Open Day and Stock-judging event at Pollock Park in the heart of Glasgow, owned by Glasgow City Council and managed by Matt Auld, I decided we would have a day out having never been there before. It is only about 20 minutes away, so with Jesme and grand-daughter, Yasmin, we joined some 60 Highlander enthusiasts including Lady Sally Nairn who had a two hour journey to support the day.

The event was very ably chaired by Dexter Logan with seven classes to judge – three Highland cattle classes, potatoes, hens, pancakes and flowers! Tom Thomson was the master judge. With the cattle in three fields, mixed with several others and with A, B, X and Y mostly visible in their long hair, I managed to agree with the judge, but I am afraid I must have made a mess of the others, because our grand-daughter was second in the Juniors by one point and Jesme was first overall. I told her it must have been her culinary skills that won!

The stock judging was followed by an excellent barbecue of the best burgers I have tasted, but what else would you expect from one of my favourite three breeds of beef, the other two being Belted Galloway and Stabiliser. It certainly was a great day, helped by the glorious weather, lovely surroundings, and very friendly folks.

A question that I am asked regularly is, what breed does best in our finishing operation? That is not easy as there are so many variables. If you asked me the worst I could tell you, but that would be unfair to put into print for obvious reasons. I can print some daily live weight gains over a few hundred that went through our outfit a few years ago; Stabiliser – 1.59, Simmental – 1.55, Charolais – 1.48, Limousin – 1.47, Belgian Blue – 1.39. Aberdeen Angus – 1.15, Belted Galloway – 1.14, Luing – 1.14, South Devon – 0.87.

But daily live-weight gains only tell you one part of the story. What is much more important is the cost of getting that D/L/wt/gain, and I cannot tell you that answer as I do not know how much more one breed eats that the other. In terms of time on the farm until they are finished, the A.Angus is hard to beat, particularly the heifers who generally do not come to enough weight to leave a satisfactory margin, plus the fact that they get fat quickly on our diet.

What has a large bearing, in my son’s eyes, is shape, and that is driven by the out of date grading system we have in this country that only recognises shape, but does not take into account the flavour, succulence and taste which drives the eating experience, hence the reason why it takes the consumer several months to come back to eating beef after having a bad steak. That is why I told the industry that if USA, Canadian and Australian beef is allowed free access to our market after October 31, the Scotch beef industry will be dead in the water! Our only hope of survival will be beef from our native breeds that can compete with these three countries that are desperate to supply the UK with their excellent product that has been graded to satisfy the consumer.

By the time you read these notes we will be almost into a week of new weight limits in almost every abattoir in Scotland. This will only do one thing – reduce the amount of beef that will be available to market. Now, that is in total contrast to what ABP in Northern Ireland are doing, so, here is their new grid that becomes effective from the first of December.

Cattle weighing 310-370Kg – plus 14p; 370-410 kg, plus 10p; 410-430, base; 430-450, minus 30p; and 450-500, minus 50p; with the Angus premium being plus 30p. This means that Northern Ireland has a 30kg higher base than we have in Scotland which makes us uncompetitive yet again!

Finally, I enjoy reading the various auctioneers’ piece and especially how they advocate the advantages of buying and selling through the auction system, of which I have always been a supporter, all my farming life. When I made my first purchases of two gilts, at Lanark Market, the auctioneer that day, the late Ian Clark, gave me sound advice, (I was only twelve years old): 'Young man, just watch the sparrows in the rafters'.

Things have not really changed but there may not be so many sparrows due to the predatory prey. What you have to watch today is the many white coats who, in some cases not only bid against the ringside but against each other.