For two years now I’ve been focused on getting my farm ‘Brexit Ready’. To keep down costs I’ve very reluctantly had to lay off an excellent shepherd and bought a sheepdog which I have made a far from excellent job of training. In an attempt to keep the use of agricultural contractors to an absolute minimum I’ve also become ever more involved in the day-to-day work of the farm.
But one aspect of my approach to the farm that has not changed as Brexit approaches is that I’ve continued with a ‘just in time’ philosophy when it comes to the ordering and delivery of my farming inputs. To keep my borrowings down I’ve only replenished derv or red diesel when the tanks are showing almost empty. To keep short term cash flows positive I’ve only rung up the seed, fertiliser and agrichemical merchants and placed my orders with them at the last possible minute.
But does the increasing prospect of a hard Brexit now threaten ‘just in time’? If trade between the EU and Britain is going to grind to a halt on 29 March do I need to start hoarding essential farm inputs well in advance of actually needing them? What farm essentials will be the first to run out if Calais is to become a giant lorry park stretching all the way back to Paris, with some of those lorries containing my ammonium nitrate, herbicides and machinery spare parts?
It used to be the case that when the pound was weak UK farmers did well because the price of their produce at the farm gate increased as imported food became more expensive. But that was when our combine harvesters were still manufactured in Kilmarnock, our tractors in Coventry and our agri-chems in Norwich.
These days, with nearly all UK farm inputs made abroad, when the pound crashes (as it has done since the Brexit referendum result) the prices UK farmers have had to pay for inputs has gone through the roof meaning that farm incomes have hardly risen at all.
With the threat of input imports being cut off I’ve had to abandon ‘just in time’ on my farm. My fuel tanks are full and I intend to keep them thoroughly topped up in coming weeks. All my fertiliser for this season is now ordered and due for delivery this month. What agri-chems I know I will need for the spring are already in my storage shed.
But this is not to say ‘just in time’ should be abandoned completely. As we approach the economic cliff edge of a ‘no-deal-Brexit’ let’s hope the politicians in Westminster come to their senses and call it off – just in time.