I CAN’T believe we’re in September already – how did that happen? The months are just flying in at a rate of knots and there’s still a huge amount of winter fodder lying in fields up and down the country, waiting for a decent weather window. Fingers crossed we see an improvement in the weather to finish silage and harvest.

It’s heartening to learn that us Scots might not be the best at football or rugby, but we can certainly hold our own when it comes to producing milk. The latest figures released by AHDB have revealed that Scottish dairy farmers have the highest yielding cows on the mainland in 2019/20. The country’s national herd is averaging 8570 litres per cow, up 1.3% on the previous year.

Despite this, Scotland has seen another reduction in total dairy herd numbers. In the first six months of this year, 17 herds, made up of more than 1000 cows, have left the system. And there are fears there could be further casualties following recent milk price reductions.

There are currently 862 Scottish herds totalling 177,459 cows making the average herd size now 206 cows – three more than the last count. The most disillusioned among us are in Wigtownshire, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire.

More dairy farms will exit production unless the liquid market returns to a more sustainable price. However, there must be some degree of optimism, too, with new dairies starting up and previous herds resuming milking.

I promise this is the last time I will mention dairy contracts. The government currently has a consultation underway to try and negotiate contract terms which are fair to all parties concerned. For most dairy farmers, their contract to sell milk is the single most important piece of paper they have for their business and shapes the relationship with their milk buyer.

Unfair milk contracts have been an area of concern for many years. A significant proportion of the calls that farming unions receive are from farmers with issues which ultimately relate back to their milk contract – so please take part in the consultation. There’s only a few days left.

A couple of weeks ago, I was interested to read that new funding will help create a more efficient and resilient dairy industry. A digital dairy project led by Scotland’s Rural College has been awarded £50,000 by UK Research and Innovation.

The Strength in Places project will produce a detailed application, aimed at establishing South-west Scotland and Cumbria as the leading region for advanced, sustainable and high-value dairy processing.

No less than Professor Wayne Powell, principal and chief executive of SRUC, said: “We are delighted to join forces with the University of Strathclyde, the University of the West of Scotland and other consortium partners, to bring about a step change in research and innovation in dairy production and processing.”

Other partners include local councils; regional and multi-national dairy-processing companies, including Arla, First Milk, Lactalis et all. The happy news is it will create much-needed jobs and economic activity to that area.

The sad news is they’ve forgotten to include the very people at the heart of this project! Without dairy farmers, there would be no need for such a project!

The future of the CAP is still a bit of a thorny issue but, hopefully, it’s progressing in the right direction. The Bill, expected to receive Royal Assent shortly, allows ministers to continue running it beyond this year, as well as providing opportunity for reforms and making it a simpler scheme.

Our Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, had urged the UK Government to make a ‘clear statement’ on future funding for all aspects of CAP to provide reassurance to the rural economy. Hopefully, it will provide continuity and certainty and improve how farming is supported in Scotland.

The Bill has passed Stage 3 in the Scottish Parliament – a key step towards post-Brexit stability. It will ease the transition period from 2021 to 2024 when Scotland will move to a new agricultural policy.

Work is already underway to ensure the necessary secondary legislation is in place for those schemes such as the Basic Payment Scheme and the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme to be available next year.

The CAP is only one of many issues affecting us on the run up to our divorce from the EU. Deal or no-deal, leaving will present significant challenges in the months and years ahead. I don’t think trade friction and bureaucratic restrictions can be avoided, even in the event of a free trade deal with the EU.

However, surely government ministers will try to keep this to a minimum; there again, if history is anything to go by, I’m perhaps living in Cloud Cuckoo land. According to the NFU, last year they were vocal about the importance of avoiding a no-deal and a very disruptive Brexit.

This time around, a no-deal would still be disruptive, but so will reaching a deal. So, basically, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I don’t in any way envy the task of government ministers. It’s a bit of a poisoned chalice.

I could labour on and go deeper into the politics of it all, but I’ll spare you the detail. One thing I will say, though, is that Scotland – along with the rest of the UK – has worked long and hard over the last 30 years in pioneering high standards. Any regression from this would be an unacceptable and backwards step.

Legislation must be put in place to prevent our standards being undermined by imports produced to lower and, by association, cheaper standards. Markets must not be filled with products produced to inferior to those that we are proud to produce.

Any suggestion that a trade deal with the US resulting in lower food standards would simply have to be accepted in Scotland, is unthinkable.

The UK Government said it won’t allow domestic standards to be undercut in any new trade arrangement, yet so far it hasn’t put this commitment into legislation. Life is going to be hard enough for everyone trying to find their feet again post-Covid-19, without allowing imports of food which is produced in ways that would be illegal here post-Brexit.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s just how important food security is.

Credit where credit’s due. I’ve slagged Tesco off for having had large amounts of imported beef on its shelves. But the supermarket giant appears to have woken up to the benefits of the Scotch red meat label and for the past month has been one of the biggest supporters of our brand.

The amount of Scottish Beef sold recently accounted for 85% of its range with the rest identified as British. Let’s hope other supermarkets follow in their footsteps. Well done.

I might just start going back to Tesco for the weekly shop!