Happy New Year everyone, I hope you enjoyed the festivities and are looking ahead to 2023 – if the previous 12 months are anything to go by, it's likely to be interesting to say the least and the rollercoaster ride will continue.

There’s no doubt we have had our fair share of adversity as an industry and whilst its often challenging, it can also be a good thing if it instigates positive change. Following a really tough harvest and with a significant debt in 1985, dad made changes and despite raised eyebrows from neighbours, changed how he farmed – he sold his machinery and cut back on staff, relying on contractors as required.

This dramatic change, which was made following months of sleepless nights, allowed him to channel his energies into stock which was where is passion lay – a trait which has been passed down the generations. It also instilled an open mind which is certainly one of the most important things which any parent can pass on to their children.

Allan Wilson, a young energetic fella from Ayrshire, who had recently moved to the area to take on a smallholding with his young family, bought the machinery to add to his growing contracting business and never looked back. He, sadly, passed away recently aged 70 and left a considerable hole in our small community as he was quite a character and a master in overcoming adversity with an open mind.

I look forward to overcoming challenges with his son, Stuart, who will no doubt drive the business forward. We are fortunate to have them and their excellent team on our doorstep.

On a similar vein, listening recently to a podcast – one of the benefits of taking my turn loading the diet feeder on the forklift – I came across the latest ‘Pasture Pod’ which featured the Nelless Brothers, who changed the way they farm completely when faced with adversity.

It’s worth a listen if you have a few hours and they, as the Kiwis, would put it were ‘under the pump’ financially and changed their farming systems in a relatively short period of time to what is now an extremely successful, focused farm business.

As we return to a full team following the holiday period, I plan to sit down and have a good look at where we are as a business. I do this on an annual basis, but feel the time is right for a deeper delve this year to make sure the path we are on is the right one.

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There’s usually something therapeutic about this process, which includes looking back on the previous 12 months to highlight what we have done well and where we need to improve, and the optimism regarding what lies ahead usually sets me up for a busy spring period.

From a farm perspective, I focus on what I can influence, grazing plans, lambing/calving detail, staff and staff training, marketing strategies etc and off farm, where my time is spent on committees and boards and how that balances with holidays, me time and family time.

Like many farmers, the latter is still work in progress but by recognising the need to look at it, I’m heading in the right direction. It's worked in the past, but consistency is the key, making the right habits stick is the really important element of this.

In terms of the factors out with my control, I will leave that to the politicians, civil servants and elected representatives. I don’t envy their task, but the magnitude of it should not be lost for, as an industry, we are sailing into, if not already in, very dangerous waters and need a strong hand to guide us through them.

Every sector has its challenges at the moment and they are linked off farm by the need for a clear direction from the powers that be on what the future looks like. I realise this process has started and really hope that this will be fast-tracked in 2023.

Assuming this does happen and we have a sensible, clear and well-articulated easy to follow vision for Scottish agriculture, we also need markets to settle giving a stable trading environment which gives us the confidence to farm.

I realise I’m asking for quite a lot here, so whilst I’m on a roll: How about a grading system for cattle which actually rewards eating quality. Our current system is years out of date and if regaining a premium for Scotch Beef is a serious goal, this has to be the way ahead.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area but know that it’s been discussed on numerous occasions and other countries, including Australia, have successfully implemented quality-based payments. We should be leading the way on this and not stumbling around in the dark.

Maybe I shouldn’t worry about the wider industry and how we get paid for cattle. I should possibly focus further on the eating quality of the cattle we produce at Fearn and how we can grow our customer base, whilst adding further value.

We already sell up to 10 cattle a year through beef boxes working with a friend and local butcher ensuring our customers get a consistent eating experience from our Beef Shorthorn and Luing beef. It doesn’t make us a fortune, but it adds value to smaller heifers which under the current payment system can get penalised and it does give us a great opportunity to engage with consumers.

Engaging with consumers and for that matter our customers, isn’t something we as an industry have been particularly good at, but attending the Scottish Agritourism Conference, in Perth, recently (as Fiona’s plus one), my eyes and ears were opened. The conference oozed positivity and listening to the speakers talk about engaging with the public was inspirational. It made me think about what we need to do as a business to look after our customer base and how we encourage growth.

On reflection, 2022 – like any other year – had its challenges but with a little time set aside to recharge, review and plan, I’m more than ready for 2023 and as an industry we should all try to be as well.

Together, we are pretty good at handling a little adversity and shouldn’t be afraid to use it to our advantage. It may mean a tweak in direction or, indeed, a completely new one, but the collective value of an open minded culture is extremely powerful.