Well. We have returned from the 2014 International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress. It was a whirlwind. We learned, we toured, we talked, we asked questions. Now we're home and we feel like we've been hit by a truck.
I feel like I should apologize for the lack of blogging last week, but here's the thing: blogging would've required taking time to write, which would've required slowing down for any amount of time whatsoever, and we absolutely didn't do that. I think it must be some sort of code for these Congresses. We'd pile into buses first thing in the morning, head off into the countryside to talk to farmers, come back in time for the dinner and banquet evening, return to the hotel around midnight, sleep/nap, and start over again the next day. The result: we learned a ton. And we're very tired.
I'll have much to share in the coming days but for now, here are 10 things we learned about Scotland.
1. It always rains, except for when the sun breaks through. Those moments were few and far between, but they are beautiful and the sun washes warm across a brilliant green and gold landscape. And then it rains again. A friend described it as a "mighty mist"; I'd concur.
2. If you've ever imagined Scotland dotted with wooly sheep across patchwork hills, you are right on. Just over 80% of Scotland's agricultural land is grassland or pasture, and home to sheep, cattle and deer farms.
3. Speaking of sheep, there are a lot of them in Scotland. Like, 6.5 million, on nearly 15,000 farms. The day we visited Thainstone – like our sale barn or stockyard – 3,000 head of sheep were to sell. All in one day. Sheep, as far as the eye could see.
4. Castles are awesome. Also, I'm glad I live in 2014.
5. An observation on their humor: it's a bit of a gallows type of humor. They embrace the whole miserable Scottish farmer bit, as a counterpoint to the happy Irish farmer bit. One of my favorite lines from a Scottish farmer: "I get up in the morning and I love my job. Then I go outside and three minutes later, I hate my job!" And there you go.
6. Subsidies, as you may imagine, play a big part of their business plan. If we understood correctly, the average Scottish farmer gets about 25% of his income from government subsidies. In a particularly bad year, like 2012, that number could climb to more than 80%.
7. Wool. In clothing. It's real and it's necessary.
8. I went to Scotland looking for Shorthorns. I didn't find any. Certainly not a whole herd, anyway. Simmentals, Limousins and Charolais came to the isle in 1970 and caught on so completely, they pushed the traditional British breeds – Angus, Shorthorn and Hereford – out of favor. Today, Scottish cattle herds are predominantly Limousin, Simmental and Angus.
9. The people are incredible. And I know, people say that about people in any country they visit but it's really true about Scotland. We talked with farmers who were warm and engaging and funny. Definitely funny.
10. Bagpipes! Is there anything more Scottish than a bagpiper in a kilt? I don't think so.