WITH ONLY a field of spring beans still to cut, we are breathing a sigh of relief along with everyone else at the end of a particularly challenging wheat and barley harvest.

With 21 days of rain in August, Brian on the combine had to steal every little window of opportunity and as ever, he hasn’t missed a chance – although it almost always meant cutting spring barley at more than 20%, and the drier going day and night. Thankfully, kerosene has been cheap.

On our lighter ground, the regrowth in the spring barley due to the drought in April and May, followed by a wet summer thereafter, was the worst I have seen, particularly as most of it is for seed – and we can’t spray that with glyphosate. Those who did spray were faced with a lot of brackled barley as they were unable to cut ripe crops due to the rain.

Despite the problems, yields of Laureate spring barley and Skyscraper wheat have been very good, and although a lot of seed wheat crops have failed germination because of heavy rains just before harvest, ours somehow passed its germination test. The last of it will be loaded this week.

The spring barley won’t move until January at the earliest, so we will have to wait a little longer for the pay cheque, but at least we will receive a decent premium for it. Unfortunately, many malting barley crops have failed due to skinning, a common occurrence this year as fields couldn’t be cut when ready.

The premium for malting is very underwhelming in any case. The future of Scottish grown malting barley for the distillers depends on them properly supporting their primary producers.

The cost of the raw material is miniscule for them compared to the profit for the end product, and unless the provenance and risks attached to growing malting barley are properly rewarded, we should not sow it.

We are still picking blueberries and some strawberries and they are tasting delicious after being ripened in the Indian Summer sun of the past fortnight. Calves are popping out left right and centre, too.

So, a mixed farm never really has a properly quiet time, but Kate and I went to stay with old friends last weekend on their stunning farm in Galloway. The rolling pastures were speckled with Romneys and the hills of Galloway with woodland and dykes were beautiful in the velvet autumn sunshine.

There is trouble in paradise, however. Much of the iconic landscape nearby has been covered in commercial plantations of Sitka spruce. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and I don’t think Scotgov realise the consequences of the drive to plant more trees in the Highlands.

Commercially, the only way to pay for it is by planting Sitka, but you won’t see or hear any wildlife if you wander through a commercial spruce forest. Apart from the odd crow or buzzard, not a bird is to be seen or heard because of the density of planting.

Contrast that with a grazed Scottish hill with open indigenous woodland, where there is an abundance of wheatear, stonechat, meadow pipit, dotterel, lapwing, curlew and grouse, merlin, red deer, mountain hare, voles, golden eagles and peregrine falcon, to name just a few.

Scotgov do fund open grazed woodland planting options, but I fear the vast majority of planting will be the profitable spruce and indiscriminate blanketing of the Highlands with it would be devastating to the flora and fauna already there (including the people) as well as having a hugely negative impact on tourism.

People come from far and wide to roam through the blooming heather of the Scottish Highlands. They won’t come for a walk in the deep, dark woods.

Climate change is a global problem and we are fiddling while Brazil burns. Scotland’s planting target for 2021 is 13,000 ha, whilst Brazil alone torched 800,000 ha of rainforest in 2018.

If we are serious about climate change, for sure we should plant more trees and hedgerows, but commercial plantings need to be limited and we should be aware of the consequences for biodiversity. Climate change spending has become skewed towards forestry (£150m in the latest tranche from Scotgov vs £10m for farming) because it is a tangible, straightforward thing to implement.

However, if the whole of the UK was covered in spruce forest from top to bottom, it would not be enough to absorb the greenhouse gases currently emitted by the nation’s motor vehicles each year.

More complicated to do, but much more effective, will be replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy – solar, wind, anaerobic digestion and developing a green hydrogen infrastructure for tractors, haulage, and public transport.

The Sustainable Ag Capital Grant Scheme might have good intentions, but most of the current options are of no use for the climate. They are also too focussed on the livestock sector, though I understand that this is a pilot and more funding will follow. It will still only be a fraction of the funding going to forestry.

Scotgov may be the masters of good intentions and unintended consequences, but for intentional self-harm and law-breaking chutzpah we need to look further south.

Two things – firstly, there is still no sign of a seasonal worker scheme, despite a proposal from Defra sitting on the Home Secretary’s desk gathering dust for almost two months. I hope I am wrong, but I have no faith left that a workable scheme will be in place next year and the Home Office will be entirely responsible if there is crop loss.

Secondly, Brexit is broke and it can’t be fixed, even by disgracefully proposing to break the law. Looking at the Internal Market Bill in a limited and specific way, Northern Ireland can either be in the EU, or in the UK, but it can’t be both.

The rest of the UK – and particularly Scotland – would be deeply short-changed otherwise. No amount of twisting and turning can alter that fact.

Whatever happens in the last chapter of the Brexit story, it is not going to be pretty. Please someone, anyone, prove me wrong?