IT is convenient for me that Burns Night is followed by Australia Day.

I get to celebrate my two countries over two days – and someone usually reminds us it is our wedding anniversary on one of those days (I never remember which).

After three weeks in Australia over Christmas, I arrived back in Brora just as the snow was starting to fall. I don’t mind a bit of soft, fluffy snow but the subsequent wind and rain has been less endearing.

While there, and since my return, I’m often faced with the question of why I live in Scotland. Isn’t Australia warmer, better and more friendly? And while the answer to these questions is generally yes, one must be cautious of rose-tinted glasses.

Farming in Australia is tough. Yes, Scotland has wet, dark miserable winters, and this year has felt particularly miserable. But it is usually predictably miserable – and there is a lot to be said for predictability. I know we complain about the rain, but without it we have nothing.

The reality of it not raining for two years haunts the dreams of Australian farmers, with the last east coast drought leaving many with invisible scars.

And if we look at the commodity price graphs for the two countries, ours has been relatively consistent compared with the volatility and fluctuations of Australian markets. I’m not sure I have the resilience to cope with Australian farming these days.

As in the UK, there is huge inflation, expensive groceries, and outrageous house and land prices. Certainly parts of Australia are a bit wild west but on the whole, like here, they are constantly faced with new and over-regulation, making doing business increasingly difficult and expensive.

Australia is warm but it can be scorching through summer, resulting in regular water bans and dry, brown lawns. One of my greatest joys in life is to lie on our soft, green lawn on a warm spring or summer day, listen to the birds and drink a pint of cider. I would miss this.

So yes, I love the sun on my back, seeing my family and the easy nature of country towns, but the Australia I grew up in is very different from the Australia of now. So I find myself jumping to the defence of Scotland, though often struggle to verbalise just what it is about Highland traditions and communities that make living here special.

I’ve also been thinking about other countries recently. One of the Brazilian guys in my Nuffield Scholarship group has Dutch parents. They looked around the Netherlands 40 years ago and realised they would never have an opportunity to farm there due to land prices. So they moved to Brazil, bought land and started a dairy farm. Walking away from everything they knew opened up opportunities they would never have had at home.

Friends in Africa are also positive about the opportunities there, albeit with unique challenges. It is not so much regulation as keeping governments onside that becomes the all-important factor to success. Perhaps for those with big ideas but not enough capital to make it work in the UK, looking further afield may be an option that hasn’t been considered?

These same African friends are flummoxed by UK farmers’ fixation with subsidies and policy. They did concede that very low wages do subsidise their businesses in a different way, but counted that they would draw attention from the government if they paid their employees more – it would put civil service wages under pressure.

When I first arrived in Scotland, the subsidy system seemed so complex and more than just a little bonkers. I have to confess I never really got to grips with CAP, naked acres, or historical payments.

Eighteen years later and I’m still not sure how I feel about them. I certainly like that money coming into our account throughout the year, but I’m in no doubt that subsidies have held back Scottish farming.

As the saying goes, ‘Necessity is the mother of all invention’. I fear some subsidies removed the necessity for progress and this is something some will have to reckon with over the coming years.

Subsidies have allowed many to continue farming when financially they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. This is either a good or bad thing depending on your own situation.

I wasn’t here for foot-and-mouth or the BSE years, so I cannot imagine the pressure this put on farmers. Receiving financial aid during these difficult times undoubtedly prevented mass business failure and community devastation.

Looking at it in 2024, if the government provides money to people to produce food, and those people also volunteer in their local villages and keep their local communities ticking over, is that public money for public good?

Those of us receiving money may well concur. If you are a newer entrant or small farmer, however, watching on as much of the land around you is poorly managed, knowing that the only reason you’re not getting an opportunity to rent or buy that land is because subsidies are propping up the current occupier, it is entirely understandable that you feel aggrieved.

I certainly don’t have the answer to what a future support scheme could or should look like. I suspect those attending the NFU conference in Glasgow next week are unlikely to hear much new on the subject either. Finding the balance between supporting food production, families, communities and environmental goals is proving difficult, particularly when so many other budget challenges exist.

What I was pleased to hear at my last NFU Scotland meeting was the newish CEO John Davidson talking about the union’s need to focus on profitability and positivity. As someone who often came away from NFU meetings not exactly inspired by the state of Scottish farming, I really welcomed this message.

To my mind, the thing that makes farming in Scotland difficult is lack of scale and long, wet winters. Finding ways around those things is not easy, but if we focus on profitability and positivity, and the things we can control, there is a tremendous future ahead for those in Scottish agriculture.

One thing that may hamper our profitability and positivity, however, is over-regulation. I feel as though every conversation in recent months, with people across a range of industries, ends in a discussion about why regulation has become prohibitive to business improvement.

This includes people not taking on employees or apprentices, and not expanding or investing. It is also having a huge impact on local volunteer groups, weighed down by more and more regs and legal responsibilities. They are struggling to recruit new members.

I sit on the Sutherland Show board and every year we have to tick more boxes, fill out more forms and do more pointless tasks that don’t deliver either a safer environment or a better show. The risk to benefit equation is completely unbalanced.

We need to start beating the drum on this before our businesses and communities are regulated out of existence.