I’ve missed the shows this summer. A recent discussion reminded me of the fairground fortune teller with the crystal ball which I haven’t seen at shows for many years.

I wonder why.

Let’s indulge in a wee bit of crystal ball gazing aided and abetted by stories and some straws flying in the wind which might show us which way the wind is blowing for farming in Scotland. I wonder if we can change the way the wind is blowing.

First, let’s hear a wee story. An able fellow – we’ll call him Willie – along with some learned friends, was asked to look at a problem facing the empire. Things weren’t good in the empire. Things were hotting up. All sorts of terrible consequences were envisaged. What to do?

The empire did as all great empires do, set up a committee. This would keep the serfs’ minds, for a wee while, off things of greater importance, like making the empire greater and they would think they were doing some good to stop the hotting up problem.

Well, Willie and his friends came up with a sound, well researched practical, scientifically based set of ideas. They told the empire about their proposals in reports.

The empire was grateful for this and added the reports to their ever growing and very fine library of reports which was reassuring for the serfs in the cities.

Such was the fear in the empire of the hotting up nobody could stop; nothing was done with all these reports. So they listened to the sages and wizards in the court who told them of a wondrous solution to their problem.

A magic that was so effective the empire could stop worrying. Kill every third beast and plant the magic hot stop plants where they grazed. That would surely solve the problem.

In the meantime, the serfs in the empire were getting more and more concerned as nothing was getting done about the hotting up and their livelihoods were at risk as the magic hot stop plants started covering their farms and hills. They knew this magic would not work, but what could they do.

They were too small in number to overthrow the empire; many of their fellow serfs who worked in the great cities did not understand or care as long as they were protected.

Where does this story leave us? Let’s look in the crystal ball and take a guess at our future, not as difficult as you might think. What are the straws in the wind?

The deal with Australia is done. UK farmers are told they have nothing to fear because current food safety standards will still apply and tariffs will be phased out gradually. Wonderful!

Agriculture will continue in the British countryside, but its scale and character will change over time. Competition will generate new rural businesses and bankruptcies. That is how markets are supposed to work in the free-trade Brexit model.

What does that mean and where will this leave farming as we know it?

What is happening in the arable sector is straw in the wind. Costs of inputs and overheads are so high, only the economies of scale can leave anyone with a margin. At what cost to man and land? What will happen to the small scale units?

Good question. In my own situation, growing a small area of barley is a distraction to our main cattle enterprise. I was share farming for a while but the partner pulled out as they needed larger compact blocks of land to work than we were offering. Fair enough.

I am growing barley until we get our farm accesses upgraded to take the larger machinery being used today. Hopefully, there will be a business interested in growing cereals on our land.

What if no-one wants it? What about others who have smaller fields, not so good access for machines and lorries? Will they get ground rented out? What else can they do? Who cares? Will the empire care?

Another straw in the wind was noted when I listened to a webinar run by Harbro and Genus, recently. Genus enlightened us to their vision of the future of mass beef production – it had developed their own Angus and British Blue genetics on the back of being unable to find what they needed in the marketplace for their dairy clients.

These newly developed genetics used on Holstein cattle and fed on a predetermined diet will produce R grade 350kg carcases at 12-14 months. They already have producers finishing these cattle in Scotland. Marketing outlets are already set up.

Why have the pedigree beef cattle breeders in the UK collectively missed out on this opportunity? What market are all the pedigree beef cattle breeders breeding for?

What are the straws in the wind for the pedigree beef cattle breeder? Stockmen and women are getting more difficult to get. Margins are getting tighter. Costs are rising. Pressure is on to finish cattle at lighter weights and shorter time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What could this all mean?

Let’s think about this. All these pressures are going to force many aging farmers out of the industry. They will need money to retire. Inevitably many, with no successors will sell up their cattle and look at whether they sell the farm of share farm it.

Where, then, the new start and the others who want to carry on? My crystal ball suggests it will inevitably force the industry into the hands of fewer and fewer big businesses.

Look at where we are with potatoes, eggs, pigs, broilers, dairy and where we are going with cereals with many businesses handling several thousand acres of crop.

What genetics will these big businesses want? What is the real market for suckler bulls?

These businesses will potentially be running up to 1000 cows with a couple of staff members so short gestation, light birth weights, easy calving, good growth, good genomics for carcase traits and strong maternal traits will be what is sought after. How many beef bulls sold each year meet these criteria?

So, back to our story of Willie and his learned friends. Should we expect the empire to listen? Should we expect the empire to help the serfs when the industry could move into the hands of a few?

How much easier would it be for the empire to control a few large businesses? Would it save them from having to kill every third beast?

The first time I heard of this empire utopia was in 2001 when I was regaled with the thoughts of the ‘chattering classes’ about the future of farming and the countryside over dinner by a senior civil servant.

It is quite simple really. The empire encourages the development of large farming units which will be effective in terms of scale and buying power to keep food cheap and any extra food can be imported.

The smaller units and those the large businesses don’t need can be left to rewild and increase biodiversity. Are you recognising some other straws in the recent winds?

We can change it. I believe we all want to see Scottish farming continue in not too different a format from what we have now. It’s a great industry, doing great work in all aspects.

It will need industry wide co-operation and understanding to deliver the outcomes we want. Past grievances will have to be forgiven. We will need, no must, learn to co-operate, to change, to not take the extra five pounds offered this week, to collectively grow and strengthen our influence in the market, with government, with suppliers and final consumers.

We can do it if we want to. If we don’t do it, don’t come back and say I didn’t tell you.