'My advice is straightforward – think the unthinkable and plan for the worst. There will be no leadership and no help coming from anybody, so each individual business will have to batten down the hatches and scenario-plan for survival'


Where do you start to describe or comment on what is currently going on in our world?

Vladimir Putin, like every crazed dictator in history, started a war he can’t win but neither one he can afford to lose. Now seemingly taking advice from no-one and publicly embarrassing and humiliating those closest to him who have propped up his corrupt reign for years, he now is in a fight to the death – quite literally.

I would never have believed in my lifetime that I would see knackered Russian tanks surrounded by conscripts, or mercenaries rolling into towns and cities on our continent with a McDonalds and KFC on every corner. Not a WW2 scene from a movie but in real life.

Now this ill-thought through ground invasion has faltered, with even the incredible sight of Ukrainian farmers commandeering Russian tanks from the roadside which have broken down, or run out of fuel, Putin has resorted to his tried and tested methods in Syria and Chechnya – absolute brutality, using modern missiles and armaments to flatten mostly civilian targets and try to terrify a country into submission.

The trouble is, it will never work but no-one around him so far is prepared to tell him as they know how they will meet their fate if they do.

The consequences of this needless slaughter are self-evidently tragic and catastrophic for the Ukraine, and its people. Heart-breaking to watch, in fact almost impossible to watch without an overwhelming sense of sadness and anger. And guilt, guilt that our own self indulgence blinded us to these dangers, and guilt that Ukrainians even now are dying for the freedoms we forgot how to defend.

While Vladimir Putin was recreating the Russian empire by annexing Georgia and Crimea, we were arguing over gender neutral toilets – unforgivably, we still are!

Now we have the gruesome spectacle of a war fought in front of our eyes on mobile phones and CCTV cameras across a civilised country, our friend and trading partner only a Ryanair or Easyjet weekend break away. There may be only two countries currently fighting each other, or more accurately one man against the Ukraine, but make no mistake this is WW3 in all but name.

We may not have boots on the ground yet, but the consequences of this barbarity are already having a greater impact on more countries and their citizens around the world than the first year or two of WW2. The consequences for all the world will be felt for years to come, even if the fighting stops tomorrow – which it won’t.

Fuel, energy, and in our case, fertiliser and feed, are already at levels never imagined in any risk management, or disaster recovery scenario for any business. You all know the numbers for yourselves, so there is no point in my trying to summarise them here. Anyway, by the time you read this, three days after writing, every commodity on the planet will have changed in value, up or down, totally out of anyone’s control.

What I do know for certain, however, is if our own business does nothing different at today’s prices (and it is only today’s prices), the increased costs which we consume will be well over £150,000 in our current financial year. That doesn’t include the direct impact of increases in delivery charges for other farm inputs, or other increased costs we just haven’t thought of yet. That is, if we can actually source some inputs at all.

To try and rationalise this to what we produce and the impact on food prices, this kind of level of cost increase means that finished cattle will need to be at least 70p/kg/dw more than they were at the start of all this. So, the breakeven price will need to be over £4.70/kg/dw at today’s costs.

Therefore, to do any good, cattle will need to be £5/kg/dw no argument, no dispute. And we live in Dumfries-shire, beside a main road, what about those who are trying to farm with a ferry supplying them with almost every input, or a four or five-hour long lorry journey across the Rest and Be Thankful or beyond. What hope for them?

Beef prices are already on the way up, but that can only be the start or the consequences will be disastrous for our beef farmers and our rural economy – indeed, for our whole economy. Of course, it’s not just beef – dairy, pigs and poultry margins were already creaking as inputs have gone through the roof and prices unsustainably low.

The noise around 'net zero' has also been drowned out as ordinary people and businesses fight for survival, or in some cases to keep the lights and heating on. Actually, those who favour a reduction in livestock numbers in Scotland will be quietly delighted at what is happening.

With cull cow prices at record levels (the numbers just aren’t there anywhere in Europe and that’s before the war started), and the profitability, particularly of smaller, beef farms being decimated (if indeed profit ever existed), the inevitable consequence of this disaster is fewer beef and indeed dairy cows in Scotland.

This is not sometime in the future, but in the next few weeks and months. If you can’t afford to feed them or fertilise the fields to turn them out and cull cow prices are at record levels, who can blame folk for getting out – it’s the right thing to do. And planting ground is still in demand …

Scotland now finally does have an agricultural policy, but it has been developed and implemented by Vladimir Putin, not by the officials in ScotGov who continue to offer nothing.

While on holiday last week, for the first time in my life I was embarrassed to be Scottish. One of my English friends who we were with read a UK news report that while Putin is slaughtering innocent men, women and children, our First Minister was leading a debate apparently pardoning witches from the 16th century. I actually thought my friend was winding me up, but no, it turns out it was true – my embarrassment was total.

Watching Holyrood is sometimes like watching the behaviour of people who operate in a parallel universe. The people of Scotland and the people of rural areas, in particular, are facing the biggest financial crisis and associated mental health issues in more than 75 years – and our leader is putting out press releases and making statements about witches. My God, you couldn’t make it up.

With no agricultural policy and none coming in the foreseeable future, the best we are being offered is a consultation (yes, another one) next year, it’s every man and woman for themselves. My advice is straightforward – think the unthinkable and plan for the worst.

There will be no leadership and no help coming from anybody, so each individual business will have to batten down the hatches and scenario-plan for survival, whatever that might take or mean.

A couple of things are certain, however. Energy security and food security are now right at the top of the to-do list for our political leaders and they can’t afford to fail. If they do, the lights will go out and people will go hungry – just look at electricity prices today and the empty shelves in Tesco et al already.

Just as survival is a powerful instinct for all of us – the images from Ukraine testify that – so political survival is a powerful instinct which will also come to the fore. Hopefully, that will finally end the claptrap, soundbite, press release driven politics we have had to endure for too long.

Robert Putnam, the political scientist, argued, and I totally agree, that in modern society we have become more vain and self-obsessed, more focussed on rights than responsibilities, and more likely to seek fame as an end in itself, rather than achieving something worthy of fame. This is particularly prevalent amongst the governing class. This needs to change ... and now.

The world will never be the same again because a combination of Covid-19 and now Putin has destroyed the myth that globalisation and global ‘just-in-time’ supply chains can sustain developed economies.

In the boardrooms of the biggest global businesses around the world, right now they are already discussing and planning to bring their manufacturing of key components for every product you can think of back home and under their control.

It may cost more than making computer chips or wiring looms for cars where labour is cheap, but what cost the extended closure of factories all over Germany, the UK and the US who are too reliant on broken global supply chains? Oh, as an afterthought, has anyone noticed China locking down whole cities and regions again as Omicron catches hold – the ‘other’ crisis affecting our lives isn’t over yet.

The same goes for food. Tesco and Sainsbury do not protect, or deal with our food security because they grow and produce nothing. So Margaret Beckett was wrong 20 years ago and SG officials and others are still wrong today.

I would like to say to all of them 'I told you so', because I did tell them until I was blue in the face and they didn’t listen.

But in the midst of disaster we can still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, just like the Ukrainians will, fighting for their families, their homes, their land and their very way of life. Sometimes there are causes worth dying for so Ukraine will prevail, it must, but at what terrible cost, who knows.

Our victory will be defined by those who can survive the short term by battening down the hatches for long enough. For those of us that make it, there will be a brighter future as we are part of the solution to this food security issue not the problem as the vocal minority and some ill-informed policy makers would claim.

Why? Because rural Scotland’s value will be recognised by many as being more than a tree hugger’s playground for flowers, butterflies and wolves. Farming is a serious business, providing a valuable, irreplaceable service to our people by growing food, as well as managing the environment.

But a litre of water should never again be allowed to cost more than a litre of milk.