It wouldn’t matter how dry things become in Sanquhar, you'll never hear me shouting for rain because I know what always happens – and Mother Nature has done it again in 2020.

The driest April and May was followed by a June that managed to accumulate around 200mm, or 8 inches of rain. In early July, heavy fields were starting to poach and Michael even took the cattle off some as they turned yellow with the grass under stress from the deluge.

We used to make hay for 150 cows 50 years ago – how on earth would that work in the Nith Valley in the so-called summer of 2020?

This time last year, Brexit constantly dominated every media form. Then Covid-19 appeared and Brexit disappeared, but now it’s back and so is the vital issue of Brexit trade deals that will make or break our economic future. We can't talk about a trade deal without the issue of food standards and in the case of the US particularly, chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.

Getting transfixed on this subject is a side show in my opinion. For our beef farmers, the danger to beef production in the UK will not come from the US, with or without hormones.

Surely we can back ourselves to sell and market our home-grown products and be able to differentiate them from US feed lot beef? And who is actually going to buy it? If, as some suggest, it will go into food service then why can’t that be exposed if it happens and let consumers decide?

Actually, the most likely part of food service for it to be used would be prisons, the NHS and other public sector customers who are all skint, and want cheap food. But can you imagine the electoral and political backlash if government, having said it would uphold food standards, then turned round and actually bought this stuff?

I know politicians are famous for cartwheels, broken promises and u-turns, but this would be inconceivable after the hot air that has been spouted about this subject!

I understand why people get excited and emotional about this subject, even if I can’t. Minette Batters, the English NFU president, has done an effective job at keeping this at the forefront of the trade deal debate – until now.

The UK Government has been unbelievably clever and completely outflanked Minette and her allies in the other unions by setting up the total fig leaf of a group called the Trade and Agricultural Commission, under the chairmanship of Tim Smith (ex Food Standards Agency and Tesco).

Do you think for one millisecond that he will produce a report that does anything to really address the issues that are exciting farming unions? In fact, being only an ‘advisory’ report do you really think it will say anything at all? Even on the off chance it does, Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, will ignore it.

Tim Smith will likely get his knighthood at the end of it and Liz Truss and the UK Government needn't waste another breath on this subject until it’s too late to make a difference to any trade deal. So they’ve played a blinder.

Meanwhile, Andrew McCornick will waste a lot of valuable time talking about US hormone-treated beef when he could be talking about the real and present threat to our beef industry, Irish beef and its processors.

Since I last wrote this column, it emerged that NI beef producers and Eire beef producers, will receive government support for so-called Covid-related market disruption. The fact that the UK and Scottish beef price suffered the same hit as Eire and NI seems to have been totally ignored in all of this.

So, it’s a bit odd that both Andrew McCornick and Minette Batters think US hormone-treated beef is a priority for lobbying government, but the unsustainable beef price of 2019 and early part of 2020 is not. The beef sector has never been a priority in the English NFU because it doesn’t collect enough subscription income from it, but that’s not the case in Scotland.

Beef accounts for 26% of agricultural output in Scotland, accounting for more than half of Scottish agricultural employment, estimated at nearly 24,500, and a further 34,000 jobs in the supply chain. Scotland’s beef sector contributes up to £800m to the wider Scottish economy.

I do realise that our government is skint, but unless I’ve missed something, Scotland, like NI, is still part of the UK, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The Eire government is also skint – it’s been skint since the financial crash 12 years ago! But they still find extra money for the beef sector, it now seems on an annual basis.

Last year, €100m due to Brexit, this year €50m due to Covid-19. It’s extraordinary. The Irish processors get their heads together and drop the price and if it’s bad enough, they know damned well that the Government in Dublin will cough up – or persuade the EU to part fund it. Single market and level playing field indeed!

The former Agriculture and Food Minister in Dublin, Michael Creed, must have had a zip in his back the way he has been worked, including suggesting in June there were more than 50,000 beef cattle backed up on Irish farms waiting to be slaughtered as a result of Covid-19. Of course, this was to try and persuade the EU that these questionable state aids payments to his beef farmers were somehow justified.

The Irish processors couldn’t believe their luck, or maybe it was they who provided the information? The same processors have recently been trying to use this fairy story in Scotland to drop the beef price, suggesting all those extra cattle in Ireland will depress Scottish and UK prices.

Both Kepak and ABP dropped the price by around 10p/kg in the last couple of weeks in Scotland, with increasing numbers being used as the excuse. But, I’m afraid like most of the other bullshit that gets peddled to justify beef price cuts, it won’t wash.

In fact, it has been reported that the kill in Eire dropped by 1400 head last week. So, unsubstantiated statements about a glut of Irish cattle are just not true. Bord Bia are still suggesting a 2-3% reduction in the Irish kill for 2020.

I have asked two different statisticians/economists to check for me and here are the responses, both written in late June/early July:

“While I can accept a few cattle backlogged because of short kill weeks in Ireland in April and May, I cannot find any justification for any increase in the Irish kill compared to 2019 over the rest of this year after a small correction during July, even though the Irish Minister Mr Creed claims there are a lot."

From another source:

“I can’t argue that there are some animals backed up on Irish farms. But I cannot accept there were big numbers and that by August (at the latest September), Ireland will probably be back to a lower weekly kill than 2019."

Meanwhile, the Scottish kill has been held up over the last six months by dairy cross beef and a move to killing younger animals. But once they are dead, they are dead. The trend in Scotland and across GB looks similar to Eire, with numbers tightening later in the year – the pool of cattle 6-30 months old on Scottish holdings as at April 1, was 2% lower than last year.

Scottish finishers should stand their ground and tell any of the Scottish factories that are peddling this nonsense that they aren’t getting their cattle and sell them to the factories that have stood on the price. The Irish abattoir business model is totally based on volume – so lower throughput means lower margins.

All of you out there who may have been concerned (or conned) by the latest scare stories emanating from the Emerald Isle about numbers, have more power than you may have thought. Next week, next month, next year ... don’t forget the factories that have been loyal to you and supported your business during this difficult time.

Loyalty is a two-way street!