Andrew Brown is a Rutland farmer born and bred. The farm is 60% arable and 40% permanent pasture and in a major conservation scheme. He is a past High Sheriff of Rutland and sits on the Leicestershire and Rutland bench as a magistrate.
I am a big fan of watching re-runs of the seventies sitcom Dad’s Army and there seem to be certain analogies that can be drawn between it and the current situation UK agriculture finds itself in.
Like most farmers, I have to be an optimist and always expect the weather to be kind, yields to be good and prices to be high for my produce. In reality, it is usually a curate’s egg of a year with good bits and bad.
This year appears to be more like a verger’s egg; in other words it has been a bumbling lick spittle mess of a year with everything conspiring against us. A bit like the way Mr Yeatman, in his eagerness to please the vicar always says and does the wrong thing.
My rape has been a disaster yield wise, with a measly 0.62t/ha, despite the fact it all came through the winter looking small but well. The incessant wet followed by the scorching dry and relentless flea beetle attack has taken its toll.
The wheat was slightly better with a yield on 7.9t/ha a 25% reduction on a good year. Spring barley is looking good so far with one field doing 10t/ha but I am not convinced the others will do as well.
Getting back to Dad’s Army. We seem to be being led in Westminster by a Captain Mainwaring character who has little knowledge of what he is doing, reacts in a knee jerk way to situations, and thinks if he says a few enthusiastic platitudes everything will be fine.
Take the Agriculture Bill which is now at Committee stage in Parliament. The golden opportunity to set in statute, that our leading standards of welfare and the environment would not be undermined in any trade deal with the US, or other country, has been squandered due to their desperation for a deal with anyone at any cost.
The UK holds very few cards and I can imagine the US being like Private Walker rubbing his hands with glee as he spots a desperate punter to take advantage of. We are constantly told that nothing will be allowed in that is below our high standards. If this is true then why are thousands of tonnes of oilseed rape being allowed in that has been grown using neonicotinoids?
Will this stop at the end of the transition period? I doubt it. How can we trust the Government without it being law? They promised oven ready deals with the EU, and told us it would be the easiest thing in the world to do a deal, and that farmers would get more support payments.
These are just some of the lies we were told, and many people believed them. I think that if Private Jones were to be given charge of organising things in the event of no deal, he could have done a better job.
Look at Chris (failing) Grayling and his supposed ferry company that had no ferries. Are we heading towards an agriculture policy similarly devoid of any agriculture when this Bill finally makes its way onto the Statute Books?
All the talk of public money for public goods is a meaningless sound bite because if this was enshrined in law then successive governments would be serving long jail sentences now for squandering billions of pounds. Some of us are involved with the Save British Farming Campaign.
The Daily Mail has even mounted a campaign to ‘Save our family farms,’ as those farms seem to be the most vulnerable going forward. I’m not going to use Private Fraser’s favourite line of “we’re doomed”, because the world will keep turning and the land will be farmed, albeit by many fewer farmers.
Remember the miners, the car workers the ship builders and how they were treated during the seventies and eighties? Now it is the turn of UK agriculture to get the same treatment, and most farmers seem to be adopting the Sergeant Wilson approach of raising an eyebrow, smiling wryly and carrying on as nothing was happening.
I for one am not going to take this lying down and will fight for what is right just like Private Sponge and his platoon, who incidentally was also a farmer. ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Johnson……….?’