The most important decision to be made next week for Scottish agriculture, is the re-appointment of Fergus Ewing as our rural minister after the election on Thursday.

Nicola Sturgeon has no other option if we are to have a farming industry left in Scotland. Fergus needs all the help and support he deserves to sort out the civil servants who seem to want to destroy Scotland's livestock industry.

It begs the question, why have an election at all if the elected politicians have no control over the civil servants, who, if they were ever to be in business, I suspect would be bankrupt in six months! Yet, they are trying to destroy all the work done by active working farmer groups that Fergus set up to give him grass roots advice on how a tiny Scotland tackles climate change.

On climate change and about feeding the soil properly with manure and slurry, I reported how our farm changed from using 140 tonnes of bagged fertiliser, down to 10 tonnes by installing slurry storage from six weeks to seven months and then applying it at an appropriate time by umbilical pipes which dramatically reduce soil compaction.

To be able to do it this way, the store needs our rainfall to make the slurry of a consistency to allow it to be pumped the required distance. If, as being mooted, slurry stores will have to be covered it means that thousands of gallons of water will have to be carted to them so that the slurry can be pumped the distances. To my mind this means that the climate saving change on covering slurry stores will be used hauling water!

Before Covid-19 a year ago, much was made of the pollution by road traffic and planes during lockdown. That pollution dropped dramatically, with some readings as low as a quarter of what they were before lockdown.

This past week has seen a tremendous rise in road traffic which makes one wonder what the pollution is like now! This surely must prove beyond doubt, that cattle have hardly any influence whatsoever on pollution.

Let me take you back almost 50 years when Westminster had 'Livestock Quality Controls' in place. You could use a dairy bull, but only after he had been licensed by a ministry civil servant, after which, if he passed, you could use him on your cows.

The criteria was set by civil servants in Whitehall, some of whom I do not think, had ever seen a cow. Back in the 1970s, when several dairy farmers had been to Canada to see their much talked about Holstein cows and were, to say the least, impressed by their production.

After the 1969 foot-and-mouth disaster, in Cheshire particularly, several farmers imported Holsteins, with several Scots doing it in the early 1970s. However, we faced a problem with Whitehall, which would not allow several top Canadian bulls’ semen, or their sons, into the UK.

Three of them in particular were doing a good job in Canada – Agro Acres Marquis Ned, Agro Acres Never Fear, and Romandale Marquis. The Holstein Cattle Society appointed three breeders, Andrew Chadwick, John Lloyd and myself to try and inject some common sense into Whitehall's civil servants, explaining how we wanted the dairy industry to progress, with genetics which were far superior to anything available to us in the UK.

Incidentally, Canada never had any interference from Government or civil servants as to how they bred their cows! I lost count, over 18 months, how many times we three met in London with these civil servants, only to become more frustrated every time by their attitude to cattle breeding.

In a last ditch attempt, we met five farming constituent MPs whom we briefed in every detail about the benefit of the Holstein cow. John Moffat, of Hunday and CBS, and Jonathon Ropner, of Herdwise, joined us in the battle to remove civil servants from 'Livestock Quality Control'. After almost two years battling, we won, followed by a large number of redundancies, including the three at the head of the MAFF.

Hopefully, Fergus will not need as long as us to win the battle never needed to take place. I do not need to mention how this great breed of cow changed the type of animal we see on almost every dairy farm in the UK today.

I have been criticised many times in the past for being a Holstein enthusiast, but having led many Ayrshire and Holstein champions, with many pictures in the house as memories, the cows of today would not have been here if the decisions of their breeding had been left to civil servants.

Outside my patio door is a most picturesque scene of a mixture of beef breeds grazing on lush grass and chewing their cud on a perfect spring day and if there is no rain between now and when you read these comments, it will be the first time in 30 plus years that I will have registered zero rainfall.

The next closest was way back in February, 1993, when I registered a quarter of an inch. I did not record in 1976, but I remember that either July or August had no rain.

It is not often that the whole of the UK has the same weather for such a long period time, the exception being the North-west and some islands that have had sprinkling of rain. Almost from coast to coast it has been dry and sunny, with a touch of frost thrown in.

Looking around the countryside, those with fields of sheep and lambs are looking pretty bare, but others have a sprinkling of green grass. Cattle are appearing in small doses, with more out in the South-west as expected but there is not as much grass as usual.

We are all needing some rain but worried that when it comes it will not know when to stop! There are thousands of acres of newly sown grain and late slurried grass all gasping for a drink. Planting potatoes is a challenge because the soil is so fluffy and dry. Let’s hope April is not going to be our summer!

Due to scarcity and demand, Scotland’s largest sector, beef, is reaching values that breeder and finishers have not experienced since 'horse-gate' back in 2013 and it appears that they will have exceeded horse-gate this past week with R-grade cattle in excess of £430/kg, with Angus’ plus 10-15p above that.

As I said some months ago, if beef producers had not had such a rough time from mid-2014 until June, 2020, there would still be plenty of cattle available because there would have been fewer cows culled, not just here in the UK but in the EU and Ireland. It looks as if beef will be in short supply for some time to come.

There is a possibility of a slight increase from the dairy herd with sexed semen being used for replacements and beef semen or bulls on the remainder of the dairy herd. We are now seeing almost only three breeds of cattle coming from the dairy herd – British Blue, Holstein-Friesian, and Aberdeen-Angus. Those are the dominant breeds in the store ring today.

From time to time I have done a market research on five supermarket beef counters to see how much the prices have changed over the years. The five I visited were Asda, Aldi, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Morrisons. The following is the average of the five, price per kilo – Sirloin, £19.60; rib-eye, £20.08; fillet, £30.83; and mince, £7.98.

I also checked prices in 2014 and 2017 and they have hardly changed. The only one that has moved more than a pound has been fillet, which is up by £1.50 and mince is actually lower by a few pence.

The range between the five was for sirloin – Tesco at £22 and Asda at £15.42; rib-eye, Tesco £24.20 and Asda, £16.30; fillet in Marks and Spencers, £40 and Aldi at £25.24.

There has been virtually no movement at the retail counter since my first survey in 2014 and the question has to be asked, how much longer can beef remain at these values with the farm gate prices now at where they should be.

Incidentally, all five had only Scotch or British beef, with the exception of Tesco, which had a tiny number of Irish sirloin. On a per steak basis, £4 is a round figure for both sirloin and rib-eye.

I know a farmer’s daughter who now lives in Switzerland who bought two sirloins at the supermarket last week for Saturday night’s meal. The cost of each 10oz steak was £20 and it was Argentinian! Her butcher shop price was even more interesting with sirloin at £57.55/kg and fillet at £74.90/kg – even supermarket sirloin was £47.09, so we are a long way from Geneva values.

Finally, a thought to ponder. I know a young farmer who farms a 500-600 acre arable and beef finishing unit in a good farming area in Scotland. For 12 months he has been calculating how much he earns per hour (I admit he works long hours) at £2.50 per hour.

He is asking himself why he is doing it. How many more are in the same situation?