WE’RE going to hear a lot about fish in the days and weeks ahead, now the subject has been energetically flagged up by both sides for the final stages of the UK’s talks on withdrawal from the EU.

But to my mind a far bigger and more important wrangle will be going on not in Brussels but in London, and not about fisheries but about agriculture. It may be possible (though I doubt it) that in future more about Scottish fish will be decided by our continental cousins than by our English neighbours.

But it’s a certainty that our English neighbours will have a far greater interest in exercising control over Scottish agriculture. The easiest way to attempt this would be by assuming that all agricultural powers should be returned to the UK with Brexit. Scottish farmers, take heed.

Before the UK joined the EU in 1973 its farming came under the control of two departments, a big one for the English industry and a small one for the Scottish industry headed by our own Secretary of State. These departments have, meanwhile, survived half a century in their own ghostly form.

But now all that is coming to an end, and one obvious replacement would be for the two departments to revert to the structure they gave up in 1973. On the other hand, Boris Johnson and his Environment,

Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, George Eustice, want both to be united in one ministry that Eustice would run. With so much upheaval going on in government, it must seem the right way to deal with such an insignificant sector as Scottish agriculture.

The government in Edinburgh will oppose this power grab, and the quarrel will no doubt wax loud. But our case would be stronger if in Scotland there was some more realistic analysis of the prospects, risks and opportunities about to be presented to us post-Brexit.

It would help, too, if the wider public showed less knee-jerk resentment of the people who form our agricultural community on the ground. Many are posh, and their image suffers from that. I wish we could recognise how, in running a big estate, they just do the job somebody has to do. I say this because, after Brexit, the big estate is going to become the norm, the indispensable norm, over most of Scotland to the north and south of the industrial central belt. In much of this territory, nearly 20 million acres altogether, economic life cannot easily be organised within any other structure than the big estate.

Especially in the Lowlands, the big estate has many people who hate it. In effect, this adds up to hatred of any kind of economic activity and therefore of population in these regions. Wilderness may be fine to look at, but is a human void really our ideal for the outlying areas of Scotland, for the Highlands and the Southern Uplands?

The crofting system was long thought to be the answer to these problems. The system was set up in the late 19th century as the answer to Highland depopulation. The crofters received a list of legal privileges that protected them from eviction and allowed a croft to be passed on to a near relation without any disturbance by market forces.

As a matter of fact, the decay of crofting was greatly slowed, but the process has quickened in the 21st century as the children of the crofts sought wider opportunities elsewhere. The system grew out of political and cultural idealism. Today, despite detailed regulation, it is fast degenerating.

But this is a relatively minor problem compared to the consequences of the Tory Brexit. It will at once bring an end to the operation of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has kept our farmers afloat ever since we joined Europe in 1973. Without it, most of them would long ago have gone bankrupt, because the great majority of Scottish farms run at a loss.

RECENT figures show the average farm earns £149,000 a year yet bears costs amounting to £168,000 a year. Dairy farming makes a reasonable profit but all the other types of agriculture lose money, or would lose it without the subsidies they get, especially in remote areas.

After Brexit, there will be no escaping from this wreck. After independence, it will become even more mangled and deadly, unless Scotland manages to scramble back into the EU in short order. If, on the other hand, that process takes a longer time, there may not be much Scottish agriculture left, or anything recognisable as such.

The CAP was essentially set up to serve the interests of peasant farmers in the original six member states, with the high costs paid by food consumers. The UK, as a latecomer, always fitted awkwardly into the structure.

This did not matter too much because peasant farming continued to die out anyway and was replaced by agribusiness on a huge scale, intent on capitalist exploitation of the land rather than on preserving quaint rural society.

That is why, if you drive anywhere across the North European Plain today, you will see few farms or fields, only expanses of single crops being gathered in by combine harvesters huffing and puffing away on the horizon.

While joining in the CAP, the UK all the same continued to oppose its more irrational excesses and, on our own soil, to adapt it somewhat to local conditions. One result today is support for innovative investments in niche markets, which is, in practice, handed over to wealthy and progressive English farmers.

In this way, they keep ahead of the game through advanced technology and new products – the same way they have survived in adverse global conditions for the past 180 years.

A second result today can be found in the blanket subsidy that is the norm in Scotland and keeps farmers going who are too stretched for venturesome investments. I think the big English farmers will survive the fresh upheaval of Brexit in reasonably good shape. Their 45 years of EU regulation have made them producers of the highest quality, offering the world meat and other products second to none.

Even if President Trump prises open our markets, I hope UK consumers will resist buying the products of American farms which are demonstrably filthy cesspits of animal disease, feebly controlled by chlorine washes.

By contrast, I fear Scots farmers are facing a massacre. Most of them will go out of business. The cost of farmland will suffer a disastrous fall. This year, it has been selling on average at £7000 an acre, and next year we might expect the figure to halve at least. What follows then?

The most likely sequel is that the land will be bought for a song by European agribusiness. The French conglomerate Carrefour already has link-ups with UK retailers, Tesco in the high street and Ocado online. It will see here a way into every shopping basket in the UK.

Goodbye Waitrose, farewell Morrisons! Maybe we’ll be feeding French in future, with foie gras and frogs’ legs on the family table.