In the language of the north-east, I’m a “toonser”, growing up on a council estate. I’m a second generation toonser however, and need take only one step back to discover my rural roots.

My father’s birth certificate defines his parents as “agricultural labourer” and “farm domestic servant” respectively. My father loved revisiting the country places where he spent much of his boyhood. I wish on those outings I had listened rather than rolling my eyes as he described life on the vanished fermtouns of the north-east lowlands.

His spik was of the agricultural hierarchy, from the lowly orra-loon to the gudeman and the rhythm of the farming year; from the plooin’ through sowing to the hairst. My wife is also of country stock, being brought up in Monymusk, a model community created by the18th century improver, Sir Archibald Grant.

She is also related to the late David Kerr Cameron, a journalist on the Daily Telegraph for 20 years, but who never forgot his rural upbringing in Aberdeenshire. In exile in the late 1970s and 80s, Cameron wrote The Ballad and the Plough, Willie Gavin, Crofter Man and Cornkister Days, providing evocative accounts of the decline of crofting in the north-east. All three received Scottish Arts Council awards.

His only novel, A Kist of Sorrows paints a fictionalised, but never romanticised picture of the rigours of crofting life. Cameron made no attempt to apply gloss to what was a harsh existence, describing it as a “brutal inheritance”. Willie Gavin, Crofter Man, is a thinly disguised biography of his maternal grandfather. Towards the end, Cameron asks what the crofts and the crofting folk accomplished. His answer: very little. The life was unsustainable making change inevitable, hastened by the Second World War and increased mechanisation.

While farming and rural life in general might suggest constancy and continuity, that is a false impression. Change as described by Cameron is the real constant that also runs through more recent accounts of the struggle to make a living from small farms

In his beautifully written English Pastoral: An Inheritance, James Rebanks describes how he and his family are the third generation to labour tirelessly on a small Lake District farm. Rebanks is in no way parochial. At 20 he travelled to Australia and was depressed by the scale of farming he saw there. It was his first intimation that the farm worked by his father and grandfather and the methods they used, were doomed. That impression was confirmed by what he describes as the “sterile, ruined landscape” of the American Midwest.

In an attempt to compete, UK farmers increasingly turned to technology and science. Old rotations were discarded. Fields had to be bigger, resulting in the removal of hedges and dykes, destroying the habitats of wildlife.

Rebanks has attempted to reverse the trend by reverting to more traditional methods, relying less on chemicals while rewilding and planting trees. He is trying to square the circle; feeding us but also preserving the land, its wildlife and a way of life.

The UK’s desperation for trade deals represents a further existential threat to Scottish farming. As recently as last month, the Scottish Farmer warned the trade agreement with Australia presents “an open goal of the home market to aggressively cut-priced imports”. The Scottish sheep sector has been described as the “sacrificial lamb” for the deal.

It’s not clear if Scottish farmers overwhelmingly supported Brexit and turkeys voting for Christmas might come to some to minds. But this is no time for Schadenfreude. As Cameron and Rebanks demonstrate, British agriculture has responded well to past changes and challenges. It’s essential we continue to produce as much of our own food as we can, while caring for the environment and the landscape. Brexiters’ promises of cheaper imported food are at best, a short-term attraction.

The only long-term, sustainable option is a pact between farmer and consumer, ensuring fair prices and rewards for producers and, in return, their nurture of the land and its wildlife for future generations.

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