Just where are we going as a country and what are we doing to ourselves? At the time of writing it’s the middle of August and we still have no sign of resolution to our current Brexit mess, not only no resolution, there does not seem to be any realistic chance of a resolution in the foreseeable future.
With just 73 days remaining until 31 October, it has the potential to be the most horrific of Halloweens. We lack leadership, any form of unity, any significant foresight, we lack (as an administration) any willingness to compromise, and without that how can we enter any meaningful negotiations? Negotiations without room for concessions are reduced to diktats.
We do seem to be governed (with a few exceptions) by a bunch of self-serving clowns, of all political shades, happy to play party politics, unwilling to listen to anybody else’s point of view, but more than ready to point the finger of blame; like children in the playground with the inevitable class bullies. What are we reduced to when one of the idiots who represent us within the European parliament, suggests that in order to ease our “great deal” with the USA (great for whom?) that we should respect their gun laws and that “Guns are a deterrent to crime. This means that if you arm everyone, nobody will ever get shot”, (Jim McCawber MEP, Tweet of 6 August), he then goes on to say. “What part of this impeccable logic do people fail to understand?” Like this really works for the USA, which for 2019 has to date has recorded 255 mass shootings, compared to a total of seven from a range of 23 other developed countries, what part of that logic does he fail to understand? Some UK voters actually elected this guy; what chance do we have?
In all of this appalling mess the agriculture sector has virtually become an irrelevance, attacked from all sides by the media. The BBC’s reporting of the recent IPCC report on climate change and land use for example has been, at best ill informed (did anybody at the BBC actually read the report) and appallingly biased and at worst dishonest and deceitful, it does lead one to wonder just whose tune they are dancing to. The red meat sector has been a particular target and we are the ones that will suffer the most if we end up with a no-deal Brexit, the sheep sector in particular. I don’t want to talk down the market but losing 30%+ of our export market overnight will, to say the least, have a significant and damaging effect on lamb and sheep meat prices, with inevitable consequences for the rest of the sheep sector.
I have heard it all, “it’ll be OK, the supermarkets will buy more British lamb…” really? They will buy from whichever source will provide them (not us) with the biggest margin. We will still receive supplies of New Zealand lamb; with the possibility that NZ will be looking to place their share of EU lamb market, that they were able to access as a result of our EU membership. “The EU needs our lamb just as much as we need their market”. Possibly, but once we leave the EU (particularly if we leave with no-deal) we will almost certainly lose favoured nation trading status, in spite of what some politicians claim, and as a third party nation, our exports will attract (potentially quite significant) tariffs, not EU but WTO rules.
“The government will buy up surplus lamb,” yes there are proposals for the purchase of lambs with no market, trapped on farms, but these will not be purchased for storage, (insufficient cold storage capacity) or for release onto the domestic market (simple supply and demand, this would depress prices even further) they will be purchased for destruction. A state of affairs that I certainly do not wish to see, nor, I suspect, would any right-minded sheep producer. I dearly wish that this situation never arises, but as an industry we do need to face that possibility, we really need to prepare and plan for the worst-case scenario but, hope that it never actually materialises.
The government is constantly criticised for its lack of preparedness, but as an industry we are largely unprepared, even now, when we are starting to see the impact on lamb prices arising from continental buyer’s reluctance (due to uncertain trading conditions post 31 October) to commit to long term lamb contracts; an unpreparedness due, in no small part, to a significant number of producers simply refusing to accept that there is a problem, either actual or potential. The assumption that things will carry on as normal is an erroneous assumption, when and in whichever manner we leave the EU (deal or no-deal), trading conditions will change, reality; we simply as an industry need to recognise and accept that fact. Acceptance of the reality of the situation must be the first stage in the process of finding an appropriate solution. Although some will not want or be able to find a way forward, there are solutions, with an open mind and a willingness to adapt, available for most producers. There is still a degree of optimism within the sector, lamb prices are certainly not very exciting, but they could be a lot worse, similarly breeding stock and store lamb prices, all reflecting a degree of confidence moving forward; it is a level of optimism that would indicate that some have addressed the situation and are reasonably confident that they are still able to produce an acceptable margin. The benefit of positive, but informed thinking?