It’s not every day that observers of the farming scene see the whole spectrum of the industry unveiled in three hours.
But I was fortunate last week to see just that when the North East Scotland Agricultural Advisory Group (NESAAG) hosted a rural forum.
A series of presentations followed by questions turned the spotlight on cereals, poultry, pigs, livestock, timber, legal issues, arable, and the broader land use strategy.
This variety showed the strengths and weaknesses of the industry, its unpredictability, fickleness, volatility and highs and lows.
Cereals produced a “phenomenal” harvest, with high yields leading to Scotland’s biggest ever crop, and the biggest barley crop for 20 years.
A large surplus is underpinning the market, but Scottish farmers are forced to sell grain at below-production costs with world stocks at a high level.
The challenge is to find a market for surplus barley.
The focus is turning to next year’s crop, with suggestions that in the wake of CAP reform the area of spring barley may reduce.
And while Scotland is producing the dearest beef in the world, producers were warned against complacency.
Attention must be increasingly paid to the ongoing integrity of farm assurance and the premiums it brings, as well as the health status of the national herd and a clear focus on genetics and performance on a scientific basis.
Poultry producers had little to be cheery about, with the number of independent broiler growers falling from 28 in December to 16 now after being axed by meat-processing giant 2 Sisters a move prompting NFU Scotland to request the Competition and Markets Authority to formally investigate the company’s actions.
Producers are looking at how to reduce costs and are working with the union and Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society to save the industry.
Greater resilience and success had come to the pig industry via the formation of Quality Pork Ltd a joint venture between Scottish Pig Producers, Scotlean Pigs and Tulip UK which has acquired the former AP Jess abattoir at Brechin.
Plans are afoot to increase throughput at the plant to 8,000 head a week following a £9.6 million investment.
Much of the strength of the pig industry in Scotland comes from well-established producer/retailer links, integrated production systems, ongoing farm investment and effective cooperation.
And on the basis there is not enough timber in the world, insufficient planting in Scotland, and predictions of increased housebuilding next year, that market is buoyant. This year is viewed as a good one for the industry, with sawmills working to capacity and demand for fencing materials high.
There is, however, a need for new blood to come into the industry.
Tension remains high between farmers and foresters about planting on marginal farmland a reflection that Scottish Government targets are not being met.
One of the most illuminating presentations centred on the massive amount of land law change since 2000, allied to greater political sensitivity to land use and ownership.
The Government is looking at the 62 recommendations of the Land Reform Review group’s 263-page report, which includes tax rates for sporting estates, farming and tenancy issues, and a suggestion of limitation on the size of land ownership.
If implemented,some of the group’s recommendations will have far-reaching consequences for farmers and estate owners as well as the economy and business outlook for rural Scotland.
This could represent a major shift for Scottish society, underlining the classic debate between the rights of landowners and the aspirations of communities.
The core message from the presentations was that solutions to the challenges facing the farming industry rest with good people with new skills, possessing a strategic approach and with the capacity to work in cooperation to exploit the opportunities ahead.