By David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates

IF I ever hear again the phrase “it’s the way it’s aye been done”, I think I’ll head for the hills.

For too long that sentiment prevailed and acted as a brake on the rural economy in Scotland, leaving so many shackled to out-of-date ways of working and an unsustainable dependency on various subsidy regimes.

The curtain has been coming down on that show for some time now and we are now hurtling towards a crossroads where many rural businesses – particularly those in fragile areas – are going to be confronted with difficult choices.

Brexit, and whatever course it may or may not take, is of course in the eye of the storm. But in truth it has merely brought into sharp focus a day of reckoning that was coming our way in any case. With or without Brexit, subsidy regimes were changing. Regulation was increasing. Legislation was arriving thick and fast. If there was ever any low-hanging fruit, it has reached vanishing point.

Landowners may have been just that at one point but for generations they have – in the main – been land-based businesses with experience of making the most of it. Ingenuity, skill, knowledge and downright bloody-mindedness have all played their part. Now they are going to have to raise their game again.

Scotland has a widespread rural economy which employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates billions of pounds.

But in communities around the country – and not necessarily the most far-flung parts – a burgeoning local economy seems a long away off. The era when such places would be sustained solely by farming and associated businesses is all but over. Rural business people are having to learn new tricks every day to carve out a viable future. This is not a complaint and anyone who did not see this change coming had their eyes closed.

Of course, farming, forestry, and renewable energy will be key elements of the rural business landscape – they are the bedrock of it. But for a lot of rural businesses that will not be enough in an era where we are certainly moving to a situation where public subsidy will require public benefit to be demonstrated in return.

Where there is such a challenge there is also opportunity, and I am heartened by the innovation we do so see in parts of rural Scotland.

Take the McConchie family near Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway. The family have farmed there for more than 100 years but were already showing their entrepreneurial skills in the 1930s, opening a caravan park.

Today the family is still farming but is now employing up to 80 people in peak season at its outdoor activity business. The family has also branched out into the luxury venue business, ploughing investment into a stunning wedding and corporate event complex, complete with onsite accommodation.

The McConchies. “can do” attitude is a beacon to everyone else. It’s way beyond what we have come to know as farm diversification and there are a multitude of land-based businesses that are ready to play their part in helping to make their part of Scotland thrive.

Land-based businesses will be debating their future in Edinburgh today and looking at ways in which marginal lands across Scotland can be utilised more productively. For Scotland to have successful and thriving communities in the future, we need rural businesses to drive that change forward. We know that standing still means, in effect, going backwards. We are almost at the crossroads. If the skill and the will to embrace change is there in sufficient scale the opportunities to create a thriving future are there. There’s no going back to the “aye been” days.