Interesting. Look it up in a Thesaurus and you will find all sorts of synonyms – stimulating, thought provoking, fascinating, noteworthy, curious, attractive, appealing etc. The list goes on. How many of these could you apply to 2019?

Certainly curious and noteworthy, not a year to be quickly forgotten for a number of reasons. Weather wise it has been a year of contrasts, from cold and wet to very hot and very dry; making it a very variable year for grass growth. A year when grass growth and productivity seemed to be playing catch up all season, going from cold and wet to drought conditions in almost no time at all. As a consequence sheep seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time chasing grass around, some more successfully than others.

I have to admit however that I was pleasantly surprised at how well my ewes looked and handled when they went to the tup, that in spite of having spent a month or more eating the grass that had grown the previous night. I just hope that this is translated into bountiful lamb drop next spring.

The tups also seemed much happier this year. I suspect that not having such prolonged hot weather this year (compared with 2018), we will not see the negative impact that the high temperatures had on ram fertility last autumn. At least we have ended the year with plenty of grass, I just hope that the rest of this year and early next year are not quite as “interesting”. It would be nice to see the current wedge of grass carry the sheep through the winter without a significant amount of winter kill. Through to lambing would be nice, but maybe that is just being a little too optimistic.

Politically it has also been an interesting, curious and noteworthy year, not the sort of year that we are likely to see again, or at least I hope not. It has been a year of great political division and turmoil, not a terribly edifying time, not all politicians have acted with the honesty and honour that we can quite justifiably expect from the so-called leaders of our country. Sadly that same divisiveness has also split the nation and could conceivably split the United Kingdom.

Agriculture appears to have been largely forgotten in all the infighting and where it has come to the surface it has been to announce policies that seem to be designed to pacify and appeal to certain very vocal sectors of the electorate and certainly not to provide any encouragement to the agricultural sector.

The declared desire of Johnson and Villiers to ban live exports, reduce livestock transport distances and encourage local slaughtering of livestock is simply a sop to some of the more dietary challenged interest groups among us, groups that are relatively small, less than 10% and seemingly quite transient, with approximately 75% reverting to more traditional eating habits within a year, it’s simply pandering to a fad. Any serious moves to implement such measures could decimate the livestock sector in the South East, sheep in particular.

Banning live exports would remove one perfectly legitimate market for our lambs in the South East, particularly with volume slaughtering facilities probably more readily accessible in Northern Europe than in the rest of the UK. As far as restricting transport distances and encouraging local slaughtering, the abattoir and/or processing capacity in the South East is hopelessly inadequate to even begin to handle the volume of lambs finished in the region. If the potential consequences were not so devastating, such suggestions would be laughable, as it is they simply serve to confirm how little knowledge and understanding the government has of the livestock industry and it’s regional distribution, and more concerning, how little they actually care, sadly, votes have become more important.

Two important deadlines have passed us by this year without resolution. We may be closer to a Brexit deal, but what sort of a deal? Any deal would also be transient with a year’s transition, come the end of 2020 we could be facing the same uncertainty, potentially an effective No-deal final exit from Europe with no long term trade deals in place.

To come back to the original theme, other synonyms, stimulating and thought provoking? The events of this year should certainly have been both, at least to any forward-looking sheep producers, the trading environment in which we will be operating long term is almost certainly going to change, just how significant those changes will be and the consequences for sheep producers are as yet unknown, but this does not mean that it’s not worth considering, producers need to be in the right mindset for change and simply pretending that status quo is going to be maintained into the future is certainly not the right mindset. We also need to be prepared to address the issues surrounding the potential changes to the physical environment in which we have to operate.

Weather wise we have seen two quite difficult years. This may simply be a meteorological blip, but could just as easily be the portent of a significant change in UK weather patterns, with some of the extremes encountered over the past couple of years becoming the norm, we need to be prepared to address and deal with those issues. Do we carry on as normal and hope for the best or do we adjust our production systems, if the latter what adjustments do we need to make?

The political situation and the circus that it has descended to has certainly been stimulating and thought provoking. Not least, I suspect that many have begun to question whether or not, as an electorate, we have the representation and quality of governance that we either have the right to expect or that we deserve. The former is probably a relatively easy issue to address as we elected them, the latter, rather more complex.

Once again returning to the theme, other synonyms such as fascinating, attractive and appealing are rather more challenging, in the context of 2019. I am sure that observers in other countries have found our political situation quite fascinating, probably viewed with a significant degree of incredulity and considerable hilarity. A number, I’m sure, have also found the export opportunities that might ultimately arise from the current farrago, quite attractive and appealing. Prospects that are probably not quite so attractive and appealing to sheep and other livestock producers.

On a positive note I really do hope that 2020 will be another interesting year, but interesting for differing reasons, a year that sheep producers are all able to look back on in 12 months time and say, “yes, that was a year that had a lot to commend it, a year that brought us quite a lot that was attractive and appealing!”

So here’s wishing sheep producers and others, the very best for a merry Christmas and an attractive and appealing, New Year!