Farming economics, it is sometimes argued, work in a countercyclical fashion to the wider economy. And if there was one year to seemingly prove that it would be 2020.
When the rest of the economy has been subdued by the pandemic, farming, on the whole, has prospered.
As this week’s front page alludes to, autumn sheep prices have been at levels rarely seen. The buoyancy of the sheep trade, not to mention beef prices as well, has left many in the industry shaking their heads in happy bemusement.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has made this a unique year for many reasons, there has also been the looming withdrawal from the EU to contend with, with many commentators believing this would hinder the sheep trade in particular.
But not so this autumn. With prices surging for lambs throughout much of the year and now the autumn sheep sales returning positive numbers almost entirely across the board, it has been a welcome boost for farmers concerned about what trade might have been.
A lot of credit must, quite rightly, go to the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (LAA) in England and Wales, and the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, for the role they have played in keeping the marts, so central to livestock trade, operating throughout the pandemic.
The fact they have managed to keep auction mart doors open is a credit to their close links to governmental departments. Calls for LAA chief Chris Dodds to be rewarded for his work, as reiterated again this week by Bagshaws’ senior partner Alastair Sneddon, are not out of place.
But as with everything in this incredible year, it is not so much what is happening now which will dictate future progress for farming, but rather how we emerge from the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit.
In relation to the latter, this year’s strong sales have showcased the economic importance of the sheep industry to the rural economy and why, yet again, ensuring we have right trading environment, both at home and abroad, will be key to sustaining the future of this sector.