What a mess we are in as a country, largely due to gross miscalculations on the part of our own government.

Firstly David Cameron (remember him) called for a referendum on our continued membership of the European Union. Then Theresa May called a snap election. Neither, after absolutely shambolic campaigns, got the result that they either expected or wanted, but probably what they, but not the country, deserved.

The losers will be the people of the UK. Interestingly, according to a You Gov poll published in The Times today, 45% of those polled think that we are wrong to be leaving the EU, compered to 44% who think that we should. It’s a narrow margin, but remember that the referendum result was only 52% to 48% for leaving, not exactly the landslide that many like to portray.

The same poll also demonstrated a 58% majority in favour of “British business having free access to trade with the EU but Britain having to allow EU citizens the right to live and work in Britain” even more surprisingly, the poll shows Corbyn with a one point lead over May as to who would make the best primer minister.

This is not exactly a strong mandate to be going forward with into negotiations for our exit from the EU. We still have a government that seems to have completely failed to comprehend the growing pressure, from all sorts of directions, for a “softer” Brexit; I have not yet managed to work out whether or not this is sheer arrogance or blind panic.

Add to this the fact that, as an industry, we now have as DEFRA secretary Michael Gove to put up with. Gove, who has previously done his best to wreck education, seems to have embarked on the same sort of programme for agriculture with a stated intention to ensure cheaper food for consumers, reduce or drop tariffs on imported food and increase both environmental and welfare standards, the latter without any recognition in the pricing of imported food products.

I have said on many occasions previously that I have no issues with either improving welfare or environmental standards; I have in previous incarnations worked for the Nature Conservancy Council (as it was then) and as an assistant reserve warden with the National Trust, albeit back in the days when most of the people in environmental organisations were countrymen and women who had a real understanding and love of the countryside, not career environmentalists. But I still maintain a very strong interest in the countryside and environmental issues.

We do however have a history of shooting ourselves in the foot, particularly with welfare. Banning veal crates (not something I disagree with) in the 1970s but then continuing to import veal produced cheaply in the same conditions that we had banned decimated the UK veal trade. Similarly the ban on sow stalls and tethers had a lesser but similar impact in the pig sector.

Increasing welfare and environmental standards inevitably have financial implications, generally driving up costs of production. How is this compatible with cheap food and a competitive UK farming sector in either the domestic or global markets? The sheep sector has a significant reliance on exports and strong competition from overseas suppliers and if all trade restrictions were lifted, it would be particularly vulnerable.

As an industry we need once again to look to our own resources and pre empt potential problems arising from a poor Brexit deal, which is looking like a worryingly distinct possibility, and from overseas competition. Farmers and livestock producers in particular are of necessity a remarkably resilient lot, above all when we are under pressure. I am sure that we are going to get plenty of that over the next decade or so. To survive, the sheep sector will have to be forward looking, market savvy, open minded and innovative, a significant challenge to those young people coming into the industry and probably even more of a challenge to some of those already in the industry. We need to question traditional systems, techniques, breeds etc not merely to reject old practices, but to see if they are still fit for purpose going forward into an uncertain, challenging and above all interesting future.

On a different note, my comments in the June edition of South East Farmer, relating to the RSPCA and its relationship with livestock framers certainly seem to have struck a chord, judging by the numerous comments I have received, every one supportive of the views expressed. Worryingly among those comments were two from people engaged voluntarily with farmer support networks. Both said that as part of their role, if they were dealing with livestock farmers who had got into difficulty for various reasons, they were asked specifically not to involve the RSPCA for fear of making what was often a very difficult situation even worse.

One even suggested nationally that where the RSPCA had been involved in the past, their propensity to prosecute, regardless of the situation, had driven a couple of livestock farmers already facing very difficult and challenging circumstances to take their own lives. Very sad, but a tale that reinforces the need for sheep producers to talk to each other. Farming can be a very lonely and isolating business: we all have problems from time to time, but, as the saying goes “a problem shared is a problem halved.” And going forward we will undoubtedly face lots of problems, so let’s keep talking.