If you believe in the saying “to see oorsels as ithers see us,” then I have to inform you that if you are involved in Scottish agriculture there has been a lot of looking over the farm dykes and into the livestock sheds on farms this past weekend and the verdict on farming in this country has generally been very positive.
Those “ithers” who have spent the past few days in the north-east of Scotland are agricultural journalists from all over the globe.
They have been in this country attending the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists annual congress.
Over the past 70 years this event has moved around the world. This is the seventh time it has been held in the UK and the third time Scotland has hosted it. Up to the past weekend, the most recent congress in this country was held in 1981.
During this visit, which is now largely completed, the 200 plus agri-hacks from some 37 countries, saw examples of hill livestock farming, large-scale potato production, top pedigree and commercial cattle and sheep enterprises, and top-class soft fruit and vegetable production.
Even for some of the European delegates this range of farming enterprises in a relatively small part of the world was something special, while for those reporters and media people from countries such as India and Argentina, used either to peasant-type farming or large-scale grazing or cropping, the diversity of enterprises on view and the skills and technology being used was amazing.
For the observers with notebooks in hand, possibly the most commented aspect of all the differing types of farming seen in Scotland was the fact that most of the food produced comes through quality assurance schemes.
The congress held one of its first visits to the late Maitland Mackie’s farm, where the family carry on the ice-cream making business. I hope that the visitors nodded deferentially to the man who pioneered these schemes in the 1980s and who is now buried on the family farm.
Inevitably, as they toured round the countryside, questions were asked about the field poster signs either claiming Yes or Better Together. For some of the delegates from smaller countries they followed the argument in favour of the former, while those from countries with a federal style of government were more aligned to the latter.
The organisers of the congress had decided the theme of the event should be “Innovations from a small island” and consequently visits and talks included some of the research work being carried out in Scotland. Inevitably, as many delegates came from countries such as the United States, India and the Argentine where GM cropping is commonplace, questions to the home-based journos included our attitude to genetic modification.
With years of experience growing such crops, there was, it is fair to say, question marks raised as to why we in Scotland were not making use of this new science in increasing production, reducing costs and most importantly in their view, reducing pesticide usage. We shrugged our shoulders and said it was Government policy.
One area which did impress the visitors was the quality of the food they were provided with.
It was no small challenge for the organisers to make sure that not only did the delegates see how the food was produced down on the farm, but how it tasted on the plate.
It is often surprising how many events, and I include the recent Commonwealth Games and some of the major agricultural shows in this criticism, tend to go for the lowest common denominator in the provision of food. That was not the case for those attending the journalists’ congress where the provenance of the food and its quality was routinely first class; thus proving it can be done.
It would be difficult to organise a major event in the north east of Scotland without visiting some of the iconic distilleries and tasting the “water of life”.
Even if they did not have a good impression of Scottish farming before their visit to see whisky being distilled, most delegates at least had a rosy glow on life thereafter.
I think their overall impression of Scotland was favourable, which is quite a satisfactory conclusion to the old saw “to see oorsels as ithers see us”.