As someone who runs both a farm and a pub, I have first-hand experience of the hugely different levels of impact that government measures to suppress the spread of Covid-19 are having on my two very different businesses.
So far, the farm has sailed on more or less unaffected. Grain, lamb and beef prices have held up and I can look forward to a full BPS payment next December. Provided neither my farm foreman nor I go down with the virus simultaneously we should be able to get the spring arable work, lambing and calving of the beef herd all done in a timely fashion.
The pub, on the other hand, faces an immediate and potentially ruinous scenario. Since the government told us to close our premises we have ‘furloughed’ our five full-time employees, who are now not working. While we continue to pay them, the Government is organising itself to pay 80% of their salaries and has also promised some capital grants to see the pub through short-term cash flow difficulties.
But with the pub now shut for an as-yet unknown length of time, we have no idea whether or not these helpful payments will be sufficient. Many of the pub’s other overheads, like rent and insurance and utility services, continue whether the pub is open for business or not.
The timing of the pub’s closure could not be more cruel. In its remote rural location, the winter months are always lean. We therefore rely on the long warm spring and summer days to fill our bar, dining tables and pub garden with customers so that we can lay on enough fat to see us through the colder, darker half of the year.
No doubt Covid-19 will create serious problems in agriculture and horticulture. Not least will be a shortage of migrant EU workers to carry out the soft fruit and summer vegetable harvest. But even here there are already encouraging signs that the tens of thousands (and perhaps millions) of British workers suddenly laid off in other sectors of the economy will be willing to take on this seasonal work.
There could be many other difficulties ahead for farms, particularly from disruption associated with the collapse of demand from the catering sector. This will inevitably spill down to us as producers, but whether people eat in restaurants or at home they still have to eat.
Whatever problems we farmers face, there are many other business sectors much worse off than we are. The government is trying to minimise the immediate impact of Covid-19 with special financial help to many different sections of the economy. From where I sit, agriculture and horticulture do not need to be at the top of its list.