Happy New Year everyone.

The dying embers of a year to forget have been fanned into a spark of hope for the year to come. The promise of a vaccine for over 50s by late spring bodes well for most farmers (average age 56) and somewhat cushions the blow of turning 50 in May for me.

We coped with one lockdown, we will find a way to cope with another, although many of our staff are visiting family in Poland and Romania, and their route back to Scotland is uncertain at this point.

A no-deal Brexit has been narrowly averted, but what we are left with has not necessarily given us back control of our own destiny. Michael McParland QC wrote an excellent letter to The Times recently – 'The sole determinants (of all free trade agreements) are economic interests and muscle, and the UK will always be smaller than the EU. We’ll be dancing to its tune for the foreseeable future.'

We can all take a short time to lick our wounds before firing up the difference engine again. Or, perhaps, we might choose not to look for what makes us different, but rather follow another path – one of reconciliation.

The people of these islands have so much more in common than that which divides us and although, ultimately, Brexit avoided becoming an acrimonious divorce, it has been an unhappy and messy affair, and relations with our neighbours cannot hope to be as close as they were for some time to come. Do we really want to put ourselves through even more of that?

There are many Brexit loose ends still to tie up. In the furore over fishing, which has a fraction of the importance to the economy that horticulture does, potatoes have fallen through the cracks.

As reported on the front page of this paper last week, exports of seed potatoes to the EU are now banned. This is ostensibly because the UK is opting out of the EU’s demands for dynamic alignment, meaning that technical and regulatory standards can potentially start to diverge.

In effect, any differences are likely to be inconsequential and this looks more like a wounded European lover lashing out than anything else. Nonetheless, because of the protocol which keeps Northern Ireland in the single market, Scottish potatoes cannot be exported, even to Northern Ireland. Effectively, the UK can no longer export seed potatoes to itself.

Clearly, this needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency. The chair of NFUS potato working group, Pete Grewar, put it far better than I: “My current understanding is that the UK have temporarily allowed EU (potato seed) imports into the UK until July, 2021, but not after that.

"We need to ensure that they stick to this position, as the main bargaining chip for getting Scottish seed back into the EU market is banning EU seed from the UK market.

It is not as simple as swapping imports for exports, even though the tonnage is relatively balanced (20-30,000 tonnes both ways), in reality there are very good agronomic and varietal reasons why certain varieties go one way and totally different varieties go the other way.

"I am of the personal opinion that the EU will only take notice of the UK if the UK play hard ball on the EU potato seed that is imported into England.

"The growers' preferred choice is by far and away to be able to export both ways, but what absolutely cannot be swallowed is allowing potato seed into the UK from the EU when none is allowed the other way.”

One success not to be underestimated has been persuading the government to increase the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme to 30,000 for 2021. NFUS has been at the forefront of this nationwide lobbying effort, with Clare Slipper particularly putting in a huge amount of work, and having been involved in discussions at close quarters it is quite clear to me that this would not have happened without them, and indeed without the help of sympathetic politicians from all quarters.

A few caveats remain. The number falls well short of the total 70,000 needed, so growers will be heavily reliant on uncertain local recruitment and pre-settled workers to make up the difference. Only time will tell if it will be enough.

The scheme has only been extended for one more year and it has been announced so late in the day that it will be a Herculean task for the two existing providers, plus two new ones, to apply for accreditation and recruit the workers needed in time for next spring.

Ringlink is applying to be the first operator based in Scotland. With offices and staff based across the east of Scotland, it is in a strong position to support growers and I hope it is accepted.

It is a more expensive route to recruitment for growers, but I would urge everyone to use it, or there is every likelihood that we will lose it. Returnee rate for pre-settled workers is only around 50%, so we can’t rely on them indefinitely.

It is also a huge concern that ornamentals are not included. A lot of daffodil growers in Angus and Aberdeenshire are just as reliant as fruit and veg growers on seasonal workers.

These will be issues for the next horticulture chair of NFUS to address, because my time is up in February. Farmers on the arable side of Scotland tend to feel that NFUS is heavily weighted towards livestock and the hills, and certainly the membership of the board is weighted in that direction, but my experience of the past six years has been a positive one, and they have been fastidiously even handed with the limited resources at their disposal.

The staff are excellent and being a director has given me the opportunity to meet and make friends with fellow directors from Shetland to Galloway, from Argyll to East Lothian.

Although our farms are as different as our accents, all of our businesses are inextricably linked with and reliant on each other, and the sooner we all recognise that, the better. If you are not a member, please join – they are fighting your corner and deserve your support.

In turn, one New Year’s resolution for NFUS should be to renew efforts for more female representation at all levels. If the evidence of the female employees is anything to go by, they will be an even more dynamic and effective organisation as a result.