DON’T LET’S get carried away or anything, but some things might be looking up.

To be sure not all things, there is still plenty for a curmudgeon to grumble about – the Northern Ireland Protocol stumbles on with the latest instalment being the Sausage War. Some have referred to the Protocol as a Schrodinger’s Cat situation, where it is both in and not in the UK and the EU at the same time – actually it’s more of a Reverse Schrodinger where Northern Ireland is neither in nor out of both the UK and the EU simultaneously.

It’s not the best of both worlds, it’s the worst. Or the Bratwurst, if you like.

I don’t know yet whether to file the Australia trade deal definitively in the ‘bad’ folder. only time will tell if the fears of beef and sheep farmers about the precedents that might set for future larger deals with the likes of Brazil are justified, but closer to home there is a shortage of labour on many farms, which is only likely to get worse as the season progresses and pre-settled workers move off into construction and hospitality. We need a sensible scheme in place for next year.

Both growers and Defra know what the solution is – and it is incredibly simple. Reinstate the old scheme with the numbers actually needed – administered through Defra, it worked incredibly well for decades with a minimum of cost and bureaucracy and if a fear of illegal immigration is your thing, absconders were almost non-existent.

Valid concerns about workers being trapped on farms could be addressed by allowing workers to move to another farm if unhappy with the initial placement and going forward, daffodil growers must be included, as they are as dependent as food production on skilled manual labour. That’s it, job done. Or at least it could be, if the Home Office were willing to listen (which they’re not).

But let’s park the worries for a moment and focus on the good. Winter gave way to summer without bothering with spring, which was odd but also a relief and all crops are romping on.

There is some concern that there might be a lot of strawberries on the market in the next two to three weeks as many of the early crops have been held back and are now coming at the same time as the later ones. England has had the same weather, so their season has the potential to clash with ours.

Provided the weather is good in England, however, sales tend to match the increase in production, so fingers crossed this beautiful weather continues. Sales have been strong and the strawberries are tasting as sweet as ever in the sunshine.

Another good thing was that new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Mairi Gougeon, paid a visit last week to Ringlink’s new office in Laurencekirk to discuss the future of the pre-apprentice scheme and we have strong hopes that Scotgov will continue to support it to become a fully fledged part of practical education across the participating machinery rings, including Tarff Services and Borders Machinery Ring.

We have also put in what I believe is a very comprehensive and compelling proposal for financial support for mentors, and I hope Scotgov are able to back it, as this scheme has a proven track record of bringing young people into the industry, but it can’t expand without this.

So, all-in-all, there are lots of good things to offset the bad and to top it all off, I was lucky enough to be asked to help out at the Highland Show last week as a one-year director. The message came through that I would be helping steward the heavy horse section – and as my forebears bred Clydesdales in the Carse of Stirling, I was excited.

For the non-horsey folk, it’s worth pointing out that Highland ponies and Shetlands also come under ‘heavy horse’, which seems fair as Shetlands used to haul a lot of coal in the pits back in the day. It does seem to be stretching the point, however, to include miniature Shetlands and of course that is where the management felt my talents lay.

Looking up what constitutes ‘miniature’, I saw that they have to be less than 34 inches tall, a little below waist height and I’m not going to lie, that is just the pony for me for the grass consumption and exercise requirements must be miniscule; you can’t possibly ride them so they are unlikely to kill, or maim you or your offspring –though to be fair, they might well be perfectly placed to give you a nasty nibble or a kick in strategically catastrophic areas.

And so there I was at Ingliston on a sunny morning a week past Thursday. The place was sadly empty save for officials and those showing, and the ring was divided up into Highland ponies, Shetlands and miniature Shetlands.

Film cameras to cover the live streaming were everywhere, except apparently on the Shetland ring, until an outraged Australian appreciation society protested they had specially arranged a big party to watch the proceedings and alternative arrangements were hastily made.

In an extraordinary development an online viewer almost immediately made an offer ‘too good to refuse’ for Harry Sleigh’s champion Shetland, Dancing Brave. I think in that moment the huge effort of RHASS, involving much of the elegant new Members’ Pavilion being given over to an editing suite with multiple camera angles in each ring, to go ahead with a live streaming event was instantly vindicated. No doubt similar happened across the sheep and cattle rings.

If that was not enough, the huge effort put in by all of those showing and the relief/joy/gratitude just to be there in their eyes behind the masks (why masks in the open air?) ought to be.

Anyway the main event for me was neither the Highland or Shetlands, but the miniature Shetlands. RHS in their infinite wisdom had asked two blueberry growers from opposite ends of the country who never see each other to oversee proceedings.

Luckily they had also appointed Katie Brisbane as steward. If you put the right person in charge, all will be well and so it was. Katie directed operations with a light, but professional touch and I was pretty much left to talk about soft fruit with Neil and hand out the rosettes.

After much deliberation judge Derek chose the supreme champion in Milday Feraggamo, shown by Matthew Davidson, a magnificent stallion 33 inches tall with a very long, flowing blonde mane and the swagger to carry it off which reminded me strongly of the Springbok scrum half, Faf de Klerk. Happy days.