To the Dolphin Sheep Fair at Ardingly to sell a thousand of my sheep. With the age old lilting rhythmic song of the auctioneer floating towards me on the stiff autumn breeze, I stand in a queue for a complimentary hog roast, courtesy of the “Wessex Animal Health” exhibition trailer.
My daydreamy state is shattered by a voice behind me. “Still writing your articles for South East Farmer, then?” I turn to meet the gaze of a perfect stranger. I instinctively feel a little cautious about engaging him in conversation. There’s something about the tone of his voice and the nature of his question that suggests that he might not necessarily agree with my articles or enjoy reading them.
“Nice day, but they give rain later,” I venture. But he is having none of my bland small talk. “How did your sheep sell?” he asks.
“I’m a little disappointed,” I reply, “with so much autumn grass about I thought there would be a flying trade but the price of my sheep was actually back on last year. Maybe our sheep were not quite as good or maybe it’s the inevitable uncertainty that is creeping into the sheep sector that is making buyers cautious.”
He stiffens. “Don’t give me that old nonsense,” he scoffs, or words to that effect. “Things’ll be fine. We’ll be better off out of all that scheming EU rubbish.”
“Uh oh,” I think. Maybe this is the time to go quiet. But then… “Will we?” I ask. “At the moment Denmark and France alone take 38% of British lamb produced each year. If we can’t come up with a trade deal by March 2019 where is all that UK lamb going to go after that?” “They’ll still go there. They’ll find a way!” He shifts from one foot to the other in an increasingly agitated manner.
“Oh, you’re right, it probably will still go there because there is nowhere else for it to go,” I reply. “But unless the UK can achieve a trade deal with Monsieur Barnier by March 2019, UK farmers will have to pay a sheep meat import levy of £2,800 per tonne. What will the price of my store lambs at the Dolphin Fair be then?”
Our conversation peters out as we near the delicious smell of the spit roasted pork. I turn towards the service counter and realise that a gentleman in the queue in front of me has been listening to every word of this rather tense exchange. He gives me a wry smile as he garnishes his pork with Bramley apple sauce. “It doesn’t take long when two farmers meet for them to work out which way the other one voted.” And he takes a great big bite from his bun.