By Fiona Armstrong

ONE of the great joys of the year in rural Scotland is when the lambs and calves appear in the fields.

It’s a compelling sign of rebirth, especially symbolic this year as hopes begin to grow that life’s normalities might be returning.

As honorary president of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) I am very much aware of the invaluable role our farmers and our food and drink producers have played in supporting our society and economy during the pandemic.

Now would be an ideal moment to celebrate these remarkable people – without whom we would have no milk, bread, meat, butter, potatoes, soft fruit to eat and drink and no wool for our clothes.

Recently I met a family who are a case in point. Anne Bell, aged 82, still runs a 200-acre farm overlooking the Solway Firth in my home region of Dumfries and Galloway.

Down the road was her daughter Katie Keiley who has a beautiful smallholding. Then there were Katie’s daughters Mollie (14) and Daisy (12) who are raising their own goats, sheep and poultry.

This month all three generations will be competing in the arena at the Royal Highland Showground at Ingliston, where they will be showing animals including their beloved Belted Galloway cattle.

In normal years the crowds would flood to Ingliston for the Royal Highland Show to meet the people whose work keeps our farms running, and those who take our agricultural produce and turn it into the quality food and drink we consume across the UK and export worldwide.

But this year Covid restrictions mean the livestock classes and the produce competitions have to be behind closed doors. Yet RHASS has seized the opportunity to do something different, rebranding the event as The Royal Highland Showcase and livestreaming it for free into people’s living rooms from June 14-20.

We hope this will mean, at a moment when we are striving for economic recovery, that we can raise national and international awareness of Scottish agriculture. In some cases it will be a chance to reconnect with the people whose ancestors took Scottish farming expertise to places like Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

I would argue that prioritising our agriculture is not just a good thing to do, it’s essential.

We are in an increasingly competitive international environment and need to champion a sector which has endured many hardships over the decades but remains a beacon of excellence.

And for Dumfries and Galloway, the “host” region for the Showcase, it’s all the more important. It’s the heartland of Scotland’s milk production, our beef and lamb is among the finest and we are an important source of timber.

This event is a chance to shout about the best from the south west.

Scotland’s success depends on the strength of its regions and in rural areas that very much means the food, farming and related activities which underpin so much, including tourism.

This is summed up by our Showcase strapline – Dumfries and Galloway Let’s Grow Together.

Fiona Armstrong is RHASS Honorary President