The one advantage the English NFU has over its Scottish counterpart is a written history.
But by the time of NFU Scotland’s annual meeting in February next year that will be remedied when the story of one of most effective lobbying machines and representative bodies north of the Border is published.
The author is a former agricultural editor of this newspaper, Andrew Arbuckle, who has already penned a commendable book on the history of farming in Fife, as well as a highly readable personal memoir.
His history of NFU Scotland over the last century is set to complement the centenary celebrations, but also to put farming into context in a period of seismic change in society and within the parameters of the political drivers, not least entry to the European Union and the perennial complexity of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Equally, the industry has witnessed great leaps in technology, genetics, the treatment of animal diseases and the coming of the environmental lobby as a counterweight to the traditional powerbase of NFU Scotland.
The last century offered a great flowering of cerebral thinking about agriculture and its role in society via the emergence of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society, the creation of three agricultural colleges, as well as the progression of research and development, and the presence of the ever-maturing Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs which is currently celebrating its 75th year.
Mr Arbuckle cannot cover every aspect of change no one could unless a tome of impregnable density and awesome weight was ushered into the world but his approach has been to develop a thematic take, looking at the some of the broad streams that have become the hallmark of the Scottish union.
He has wisely avoided Guy Smith’s approach to the story of the English union, which is told by chronicling the terms of the 33 presidents, looking at the career and achievements of each in turn and backing up the narrative with a backcloth of the wider social and economic picture.
The flaw with this method, in what is otherwise a fine piece of work, is that Smith’s book struggled to give each president equal treatment.
But the fact is that all presidents did not merit such generosity. The circumstances and challenges they faced were different, and their performances variable.
Rather, Mr Arbuckle is adopting the philosophy of Harold Macmillan, who believed that the making and shaping of leadership were governed by nothing more than “events” in a changing world.
And in a laudable demonstration of this, Mr Arbuckle is crafting a chapter on the impact of weather on the industry, a given, unpredictable, and wholly decisive force in settled agriculture.
Equally, he is charting the changes in animal diseases and the role of food as a key determinant in agricultural policy.
Overlying these powerful factors is the perpetual question about the role of the farmer and farming in society.
At one time there was a clear certainty about both. In the immediate post 1939-45 war years, the farmer was seen as a respected figure in society. As the nation’s mouth became fuller and food was increasingly taken for granted, coupled with a growing disconnect between the land and urban Scotland, appreciation for the agricultural community slipped away.
This required a concentrated effort to restore public confidence, but that is a fickle commodity and concerns over “subsidy junkies” and “feather-bedded farmers”, allied to diseases such as BSE and foot and mouth, were quick to paint a blacker picture for practising farmers.
The sub-text of this is that in the later 20th century and into the present, the need for farming leaders to articulate their role and position in society is never far from the top of the agenda.
Farming today perhaps more than at any time in the last 100 years cannot be seen in a silo.
There is too much public money flowing into the industry to allow that detachment.
Its fortunes and failures are directly related to local, national and international forces; public moods and perceptions; the challenges over land use, and political pressure.
Scottish farmers have never operated in such a global context in history and their union has had to deal with those massive issues with clear leadership.
Mr Arbuckle’s book will offer an assessment on how the industry has fared over the last hundred years.