By Ken Fletcher

WHAT a celebration we had this week for the Scottish Agriculture Awards – it was not before time that this great industry took some time out from the political and climatic storms that seem to dog it, to pat itself on the back.

The awards have been a long time coming via an almost elephantine gestation, but where there’s a will, there’s a way and The Scottish Farmer found some like-minded partners in promoting all that’s good about Scottish agriculture in RHASS and AgriScot. It has been an insightful collaboration.

What has become very clear is that this industry should not shy away from celebrating the very many good businesses and people that make it what it is. Geographically and climatically we are challenged all the time, and it’s those challenges which make farming in Scotland that bit more special and that bit more resilient. This week, we took time to celebrate the pioneers, the innovators and the really sensible people that make Scottish Agriculture plc tick – all those nominated have been winners.

In reality, Scotland’s farming is like being part of a ‘village’ because everyone really knows everyone else! And that might help explain why really good people and their businesses are sometimes reluctant to put themselves forward for any kind of acclaim. Having been part of the process that delivered the awards and on some of the judging panels, it’s a notion that simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

The good news is that these awards will run and run simply because there is a dripping roast of very able, clever people and their workplaces out there and so already we will be planning to do it all again next year and the year after and so on.

Politically, we have been bludgeoned into thinking that we are nothing more than spongers on the Treasury (in both Holyrood and Westminster) and that we are desecrators and polluters of the countryside. Those viewpoints could not be further from the truth and the Scottish Agriculture Awards will be be one way for the industry to showcase what a nonsense any such notions might be.

Policy ruminations keep harping on about ‘agricultural sustainability’ and how we all need to strive for that aim. In my opinion, that is the most overused phrase on the planet. For goodness’ sake, no business would last any length of time without being sustainable and what the awards highlighted is that there are entire sectors of this industry that should take pride in what they do, and no one should shy away from the fact that they make money. That’s what being sustainable means!

Congratulations to everyone who took part in the process for the awards and let’s all look forward to promoting and revering the industry as it should be! These awards will be sustainable for many decades to come!

Get the draining rods oot

That climate change is happening is indisputable – but then again, we have always lived in a changing climate because that is what it does!

Sometimes, though, its effects have been cataclysmic and tragic, as brought home to many people and businesses this past week or two. Homes and steadings have been engulfed, fields of growing crops either destroyed or severely compromised and, saddest of all, lives have been lost.

With farmland bearing the brunt of burst riverbanks and inundation by water, maybe it is time for the authorities, local and national, to heed what farmers have been telling them for many years. That is there are many measures which used to mitigate against inundation that are no longer ‘allowed’.

Farmers and others used to extract sand and gravel from rivers for roads and building work, and now that it is no longer approved of. This has allowed some of the main rivers in Scotland to have new pinch points in the outflow of water caused by huge gravel banks. That’s a known factor.

The argument against gravel removal was that it affected river life and in the case of some of our cleanest rivers, things like freshwater mussels. But the fact that the mussels survived during many decades of abstraction of sand and gravel has been ignored by some of the desk-top jockeys of conservation – in fact, can anyone tell us all how many more mussel beds are now in place because gravel beds are no longer removed? Indeed, the survival and creation of mussel beds is more to do with sea trout than anything else, but that’s another argument.

We also have to factor in that many of the major rivers which are now spilling over into farmland and people’s homes during high rainfall incidents, no longer have dredging of their lower reaches, the aims of which was to allow navigation by commercial vessels and to reduce the risk of flood in some of the low-lying towns further upstream. We should not forget that inundation's were never so serious when dredging was in place.

It’s complicated issue and a costly one to resolve, but those in authority should be reminded that farming must not bear the brunt of any measures to prevent flooding. Those landowners, even in the upper reaches of our river systems, will want to know that any measures and effort that they put into flood mitigation is more than matched by efforts to pull the ‘plug’ from the bottom end of the river, ie dredging, which acts as a giant draining rod for river systems.

There’s no point in delivering water methodically from the top of the system to see it only clogged by inertia further downstream. In fact, as far as I am aware, there are clear responsibilities enshrined in law about ensuring drainage is fair to those up and downstream for any blockages.

Let’s not also factor in the argument of how tree felling by beavers did not appear to help recent flooding!