“So, how did the farm come through a combination of Brexit and the pandemic?” is a question that I’m often asked by friends and acquaintances. “Great, thanks,” is my standard reply.
“Great” is a bit of an exaggeration but, considering the challenges Covid-19 and Brexit posed to so many businesses, it’s the only answer I feel comfortable giving.
After all, while the likes of hospitality and high street retail establishments were ordered to shut during the pandemic, my farm carried on remarkably unaffected. Similarly, while many businesses, including food exporters, have run into a nightmare of bureaucratic form-filling and other additional costs in doing business with the EU, post-Brexit, my farm seems to have sailed serenely on. Indeed, there has hardly been a hiccough in its normal trading.
But, in recent weeks, my mood has become more gloomy, even though farmgate prices for my combinable crops, beef and lamb all remain buoyant.
First came the news that energy prices were soaring. The most obvious immediate impact of rising energy prices has been an escalation in the costs of a series of farm inputs, most notably red diesel and ammonium nitrate (which is made from natural gas). But I don’t need to be an economist to work out that rising energy prices will work through to increase the cost of just about any input my farm buys.
But perhaps more unsettling still has been my inability to get so many inputs delivered on farm, whatever price I’m prepared to pay for them.
I had grand plans to grow winter beans this year, but I have had to abandon the crop. Firstly, I couldn’t source any glyphosate to spray off the wheat stubble I was proposing to direct drill the crop into. The farmer’s co-operative I tried to order the chemical through informed me that I was “at the back of a 23,000-hectare queue”.
I might have got around that particular difficulty by broadcasting the bean seed and ploughing it in, but I was told that no winter bean pre-emergent herbicide would be available until next spring.
The final nail in the coffin of this enterprise was being informed that there was no guarantee that transport could be found to deliver the bean seed anyway. So it is that my winter bean crop has been postponed to a spring bean crop in the hope that I can be sure of having the inputs required on farm by then.
I’ve no idea to what extent all these recent difficulties for my farm are attributable to the pandemic or Brexit or a combination of the two. But, as a friend said to me recently: “When you can’t distinguish between the impact on farms of a global pandemic and something farmers voted for, they probably shouldn’t have voted for it.”