“We feel very honoured that minister (Mairi) Gougeon has considered our facilities and has given us almost a full morning of her time.”

This is a quote from Lago Sofia CEO, Miguel Portus. Lago Sofia is a fish farming business near Puerto Montt in Chile. Ms Gougeon and her entourage of officials and advisers (there were at least four on this visit) have been in Chile to visit the AquaSur Trade Show (aquaculture) and peatland projects.

Quite why she needed to go to Chile to see peatland projects when we keep hearing how amazing and valuable peatlands in Scotland are is frankly beyond me. And worse, she could have saved herself a trip because Stirling University is advising governments all over the world on aquaculture. It is regarded as one of four world-wide centres of excellence on this very subject. Maybe she didn’t even know this existed in her own backyard – not unusual for the present administration.

Of course, this lengthy jolly will, no doubt, be justified as a ‘fact-finding’ mission to see sustainability at its best and to attract inward investment to Scotland. And here was me thinking the Scottish Government had no money and almost every department budget, including agriculture, has been cut.

Puerto Montt is 7858 miles from Edinburgh. Auldgirth in Dumfriesshire is 70 miles from Edinburgh. Last summer, the Scottish Beef Association held its premier event at Peter Landale’s Dalswinton Estate to showcase the importance and excellence of the Scottish beef sector, and also the innovative initiatives being trialled and used to make it more profitable and sustainable. Ms Gougeon was notable by her absence.

Despite being invited, there was not a single senior policy official from the Scottish Government at this event either, all just over an hour from their back door. Mind you, with my intimate knowledge of Dumfriesshire, I can inform the Cabinet Secretary that there are much better vineyards in the Colchagua Valley than in the Nith Valley – but then she probably already knows that! I get that salmon farming is important to Scotland, worth over £700 million to the Scottish economy in the latest published figures. But the red meat sector is worth over £2.8 billion, with beef contributing over 70% of this value. Obviously, though, not important enough for Ms Gougeon or her officials, who continue to display a total disregard for one of Scotland’s prized exports and iconic brands.

The latest figures showing a massive 13,269 fewer suckler calf claims in 2023 is testament to the abject policy failure of Ms Gougeon and her Green pals. The belated announcement of a 410-day calving index for next year’s scheme is utterly pathetic and displays a total ignorance of what is required to instil confidence into this important sector.

The loss of these calves represents over 5000 tonnes of beef which Scottish processors could have sold either at home or abroad as a significant contribution to the Scottish economy. But, of course, what would this administration know or care about something as trivial as our economy. Hell, the Greens don’t even recognise GDP as a measurement of economic activity.

Meanwhile, as Ms Gougeon and her entourage were galavanting around South America, Scottish farmers are battling against one of the wettest spells in history. For many arable farmers, spring sowing is at a standstill and they are now on the verge of a catastrophe. And beef and sheep farmers are working round the clock in these challenging conditions delivering the calves and the lambs which will provide the primary products for the value-added meat processing sector.

These committed professionals are not only battling against the elements, they are battling against the ill-thought-out or non-existent Scottish Government policies to support and regulate this sector. Beef farming requires long-term planning and investment, and that is nigh on impossible in the policy vacuum which has been created by Mairi Gougeon and her hapless advisers and officials – the 410-day announcement is evidence of that, if even more evidence was needed.

Scottish farmers have been waiting for over three years for some kind of direction and the policy detail to underpin this as we move away from the EU Common Agriculture Policy. The calves and lambs which are being born as I write this will be caught up in the regulations that Mairi Gougeon will impose – and we have little or no idea what they will be, despite the drivel in the Agriculture Reform Route Map we keep hearing so much about.

What kind of way is this to run a country? What kind of way is this to treat an industry which is so important to the Scottish economy? What kind of way is this to treat individuals who are doing their best to feed a nation, despite the constant negative publicity often emanating from the same politicians, officials and advisers who are supposed to be providing the leadership which has proved totally elusive in the last three years?

Meanwhile, as Nero fiddles, Rome continues to burn. In Ms Gougeon’s absence, it has been reported that Lorna Slater has proposed using agriculture support funding to compensate farmers for beaver damage. Another flash of brilliance from Ms Slater. Maybe Jim Fairlie, Ms Gougeon’s new deputy, could also make a bid for funding for compensation for sheep farmers who will get thousands of lambs murdered now this SNP/Green rabble have banned snaring of foxes. Shame on you Jim, you used to spend your time trying to save lambs.

And with the latest proposals being published for land reform in Scotland, maybe Ms Gougeon should have flown home via Zimbabwe and studied what has happened to the ‘bread basket’ of Southern Africa after Mugabe and his thugs got hold of it in the 1980s. Between a land

grab, corruption and no policies for producing food, and pretty much doing as he pleased for a generation, look what has happened to the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

Scotland isn’t Zimbabwe, but Nicola Sturgeon started this madness by joining up with the Greens – and Humza Yousaf shows no sign of seeing the light, despite his empty words at the NFUS AGM.

But as Lord Acton observed, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.