Since my first column I have highlighted how change is a normal part of our world. Dealing with change is the difficult bit, particularly if you are involved in something where change is slow, not common and you are not in control – Such is farming.

My time on the NFU Scotland legal and technical committee has introduced me to a new and fast changing world; indeed, a new world order is in the making I would dare to suggest. It is a parallel universe to our usual discussions such as farm assurance, fertiliser, fuel, LFA, slurry, electronic ear tags and so on. It will impact farming, make no mistake.

In this new world there is a new language, new concepts, a rapid removal of the old way, new faces on the block and new ways of doing and looking at things. We must learn all about this world and adapt to it.

Has our industry staked out its claim in the new world order? Have we got our heads in the sand wondering what is going on, what’s all the noise? Perhaps it’s time to learn and understand this new world before it is imposed upon us.

Our elected leaders in Holyrood and Westminster are not providing that clarity of vision we need to go forward knowing what our role really is. Or are they? Is it just we haven’t yet fully recognised it and engaged?

Am I being too generous in thinking they do have this vision; just they haven’t quite shared it all with us yet? Or have we, as an industry not wakened up to it and staked our claim before the influencers in this new world do it for us? Are we too involved with the here and now to look up the road and see what’s coming, never mind try to understand it?

In a previous column I described the vultures circling our industry. Indeed, they are here. Make no mistake. The big money digester vultures have arrived in the Highlands and the North east in the last few weeks offering a golden future with silver tongues and offers of much brass. Why – my favourite question? Let’s find out.

Last week’s Scottish Land Commission report on land prices highlighted some of the vultures changing our fortunes, lifestyles and aspirations. What are the drivers? What is the new language in town? We must learn and understand this new language before we become the carrion.

I’m sure you’ve seen all these wonderful new words and phrases being bandied about, the circular economy, natural capital, regenerative agriculture, social capital and so on. What has this to do with you and yours? A lot I would suggest. Let’s have a look at some of the new language.

The linear economy and the circular economy

The linear economy is a 'take, make, dispose' model and has resulted in inefficient use of our natural resources, a culture of consumerism and a predisposition towards waste. On a planet with finite resources, this has to change. I don’t think anyone can disagree with that.

There is a growing global movement aimed at transforming the linear economy into a circular economy. The primary aim of the circular economy is to redefine what is meant by growth, focusing instead on positive society-wide benefits rather than narrower and purely economic benefits.

Essentially, the circular economy requires us to completely rethink what we understand as progress and, in that process, redesign our economic model. This is the new world I am referring to.

It entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system. A transition to renewable energy sources is a key part of this model which also aims to build economic, natural and social capital.

What does this really mean? How do we take the linear model and turn it on its head? Essentially there are three primary principles associated with this transition – design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. Anything starting to sound familiar?

The United Nations defines the circular economy as 'an economy in which waste and pollution do not exist by design. Products and materials are kept in use, and natural systems are regenerated.'

There is no waste in nature. Everything is cyclical. The natural cycles – carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, water etc. – work in closed loops with little or no waste. The circular economy aims to mimic these natural cycles, creating an economic model that protects, supports and actively improves our environment.

In the linear economy, environmentalism is based on trying to do less harm. The circular economy takes this to the next step by aiming to do good for the environment.

Where does farming fit into this? It’s not yet easy to work out. After all farming is the process of harnessing the above cycles to create food. Yes, we have waste and pollution issues to address and that is under way with organisations like NFUS who are currently undertaking a major project looking for solutions to the problem of on-farm plastics for example.

Can we be more circular? How can we keep products and materials in use? Many companies are making fundamental changes in both production design and technology, and are developing ways to make natural resources, energy, minerals, water, forests, etc stretch much further than they do today. These major resource savings often yield higher profits than small resource savings do. How can farming do this?

One way this is achieved is shifting to a model which mimics nature. In closed-loop production systems (like carbon, water etc), modelled on nature’s designs, every output either is returned harmlessly to the ecosystem as a nutrient, like compost, or becomes an input for manufacturing another product.

Natural capitalism

Traditional manufacturing and capitalism rests on the sale of goods. In the natural capitalism model, value is instead delivered as a flow of services. This connects the interests of providers and customers in ways that reward them for implementing the first two innovations of natural capitalism – resource productivity and closed-loop manufacturing. What natural capital services can farming provide?

All capital projects need investment and reinvestment. Natural capital is no different. A business must restore, sustain, and expand the planet’s ecosystems to ensure their services and biological resources produce even more abundantly. Pressures on resources are mounting as human needs expand. Deteriorating ecosystems are increasingly costly to restore and consumer environmental awareness is increasing.

With natural capitalism these pressures all create business value. What values are here for farming and crofting? How can we ensure that any value is not extracted by other business interests trying to greenwash their own activities?

When a company starts to invest in natural capitalism, it eliminates the waste of energy, water, materials, and other resources throughout its operations. There are two main ways companies can do this at a profit. First, they can change the whole operation looking at it as a whole rather than part by part. Second, companies can replace old industrial technologies with new ones, particularly with those based on natural processes and materials.

What can farming achieve here? Are there opportunities for agriculture, an industry used to working with nature? Can we drive more holistic, mutually beneficial relationships delivering for natural capital and food?

Regenerative agriculture

This is a new and rapidly growing movement. It involves farming principles and practices that have positive impacts on the surrounding environment such as increasing biodiversity levels, enriching soils, improving water systems or enhancing ecosystem services. It’s about doing good for the world around us.

Social capital

Social capital is a set of shared values that allows individuals to work together in a group to effectively achieve a common purpose. The idea is generally used to describe how members are able to band together in society to live harmoniously.

An example of a downside to this is when a group of corporate executives may collude to manipulate market prices to drive out the competition.

Scottish Government

Scottish Government is investing in all the above concepts. The NFUS L&T and ELU committees spend a large part of their time and resource responding to consultations on the legal implementation of these concepts such as land tax, sustainable travel, community relationships, land rights and responsibilities statement, slurry regulations, outdoor access code, fly tipping and much more. Agricultural policy, which for so long has sat in its own silo, is now being viewed through a different lens. Producing food is no longer enough, land use must be for the public good, integrated and maximised.

The circular economy in action

The rise in land prices for carbon credits and forestry has its roots as much in climate change mitigation as investing in natural capital.

Thus, it is with the anaerobic digester companies. They are looking to invest in the new circular economy where land is used to produce methane for the public gas system using the concept of reusing waste to make it go further and produce an end product – compost – which will produce the products to start the cycle over again.

The same principle applies with those buying land for peat restoration or forestry, they are investing in natural capital.

How does the industry respond?

There will be much hand wringing until we work out our roles in this new world. Somewhere, someone has to work out the balance between investment in natural capital and food security before the country goes food bankrupt. What value draff against these systems and imported protein? What is the best natural capital investment here for the environment and food security?

How do we do develop natural and social capital?

We increase investment in farming and crofting social capital by forming groups (communities) which are empowered to deliver their aims, just as Scottish Government is aiming to do with urban communities with the Land Reform Act.

As I’ve said before it will mean putting the past (personal and collective) behind us, accepting that your neighbour is not your competitor, that there is only benefit from coming together and agreeing our way forward. We owe that much to those who will follow us.

As an industry, in terms of social capital, we have a set of shared values that should allow individuals to work together in a group to effectively achieve a common purpose. Whatever that group is, a crofting township, monitor farm, NFUS does not matter, it’s that coming together to agree the route forward that matters.

This new world offers new opportunities which we need to understand, evaluate, agree and then develop. The future, I suggest, is actually in our hands, not the government’s.