I drove to Pitlochry at the weekend and, apart from some drivers on the A9 making our own A7, A1 and Soutra racers seem almost sane, the most noticeable fact was how far behind spring drilling was once the Forth was crossed.
With a few exceptions, drilling of spring crops in the north Northumberland and Borders area is, generally well forward.
As in East Lothian, that is partly because so much winter wheat and oilseed rape was drilled in good conditions last autumn, reducing the area available for spring barley and beans. Most autumn sown crops established well and look promising while many spring sown barley crops are through the ground and rowed-up, a delicate green cover that is one of the best sights of spring.
But through Fife and Perthshire and, on a scenic drive home, Stirlingshire, many fields were ploughed, but not drilled, and fields that were being drilled were still obviously barely dry enough. If a week is a long time in politics the same applies to farmers trying to catch up with spring drilling, and given more favourable conditions this week it is possible that many of the fields I saw have now been drilled.
But a reminder of how weather can vary so much not just from year to year, but from area to area in the same year doesn’t go amiss. This year we seem to be getting the best of it – including potato planting proceeding rapidly on lighter land. That statement is made with apologies in advance to those with heavier land or in wet weather pockets who don’t think they’re lucky at all.
Against strong competition the present European Union common agricultural policy (CAP) discussions are the most complicated I can remember in the past 40 years. Human memory being what it is, we tend to forget there have been some humdinger discussions in the past but the present ones take some beating.
The latest twist for farmers in Scotland was what most commentators described as a “Brussels bombshell” at the beginning of last week when it seemed EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos had reneged on an agreement made with the Scottish government.
To try to simplify, originally it was said that Mr Ciolos would allow the Scottish government to link an extra five per cent of the total EU farm subsidy for Scotland, agreed a few months ago, directly to sheep and beef production in what is now called the rough grazing region, that is, much of Scotland.
The bombshell was that Mr Ciolos claimed last week there was no such agreement. Effectively – and I realise this is simplification to Britain’s Got Talent level – farmers in the hills and uplands of Scotland will be even worse off under the new CAP rules than they thought they would be. And that was bad enough.
I suspect there is more to come on this, but whether it can be explained satisfactorily is another matter.