Comment: 2014 looks far more interesting

Like cramming folk into a phone box, the Government's agri team had a lot to get through in 2013. Picture: Jacky Ghossein
Like cramming folk into a phone box, the Government's agri team had a lot to get through in 2013. Picture: Jacky Ghossein
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I CAN only imagine that there was a huge sigh of relief when the Scottish Government agriculture team let their hair down at their Christmas office party this year.

For, over the past few weeks, there seems to have been one almighty rush to get everything sorted out and wrapped up before Christmas – with pronouncements being made, three crucial industry consultations launched, discussions held and negotiations entered into, European Union meetings attended and, let’s not forget, support payments doled out.

So let’s hope that they didn’t abuse the photocopier and will be back in good fettle at the start of the new year, ready to listen to the feedback.

A lull can allow time for a bit of refection. But I’m not even going to pretend that I’m in a position to give a measured appraisal of the proposals churned out over the past few weeks – give me until 2020 for that – because hindsight is always a wonderful thing.

Instead, I turned to the more mundane task of clearing out some of the old e-mails clogging my laptop – and in so doing I chanced on a piece I had written at the beginning of the year. Looking back at it now, it seemed to be a time of innocence. A time before most of us had heard of convergence, inter-pillar flexibility, ecological focus areas or degressivity: the terms that have been hitting the headlines with unrelenting regularity in recent weeks.

And, of course, the “Scottish clause”, the “Irish tunnel”, the “French redistribution” and all the other shorthand phrases for complicated ideas that have entered our lexicon were at that time only a glint in a member state’s eye.

I did, however, find myself wondering what happened to the “Swedish model” that figured earlier in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) discussions – did she run off with the Italian gigolo?

This year had the odds stacked against it – with 2014 always appearing to be favoured, hosting as it will the independence referendum, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

And, certainly on the farming front, with talks of the new CAP already under way, most of the talk then – and for the previous two or three years – had been about 2014.

Ok, it was probably becoming blindingly obvious that, short of a miracle, the chances of a new CAP being in place by that time were paper-thin but most of the talk was still all about “post 2014” – and the brave new year we had only just entered had hardly a mention.

There was a lot to be done and sorted out in 2013 though. For those at the hard end who were eking out scarce fodder stocks at the start of the year, it looked like the first challenge would be to survive through to the spring when the growing year began, and the stock could access some decent grass.

Back in January I said that the day would come – but nobody, including myself, realised just how long it would be in coming.

But come it did – and, after that, the industry seemed to be allowed some recuperation, with a bit of summer allowing silage making and the harvest to be carried out in something approaching normal conditions.

But the hope that we would have any CAP deal – let alone be arguing out the final implementation details – looked even further off.

Yet, in the middle of the year, we saw the Irish presidency push through an agreement that kept the negotiations alive.

With such a hectic year under our belts there’s no doubt everyone deserves a break and a spell for reflection.

And, when the weather’s awful and there’s nothing on the box, what better way to spend the hols than getting to grips with all those consultations?