Picture the scene. It is the end of 2021 and there has been a no-deal Brexit, while Basic Payments have also started to reduce in line with Government plans to move towards a more environmentally-based farming support structure.
In light of his claims on the Andrew Marr Show 12 months’ previously, some farmers have started to follow Defra Secretary George Eustice’s advice and are looking to stock more beef than sheep. But problems are starting to emerge.
In the uplands, farmers are swapping ewes for cows but are finding they are restricted in terms of numbers and breeds under their environmental schemes, with the commercial imperative pulled from beneath their feet in the transition.
In bovine TB hotspot areas there are also concerns as the shift from sheep to beef would place many at the heart of one of the most contentious issues in modern agriculture, namely the scourge of this terrible disease.
In the dairy sector there is also some head scratching going on, with Arla once again having to reiterate that it cannot move Lurpak production to the UK. Namely because it is a European cooperative, a point the Defra man seems to have missed.
Flippancy aside, this week’s comments by Mr Eustice have prompted significant levels of derision across the industry after his steadfast refusal to consider the negative effects of Brexit during his interview by the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
A lot of this will be posturing as EU trade negotiations continue and the debate about Brexit reaches a crescendo. He is also right to point out there will be shifting dynamics in terms of supply and demand, whether we have a trade deal or not.
However, in some areas sheep farming (mixed or otherwise) is not only a commercial driver, it is also a strong part of the cultural narrative and should not be dismissed in an offhand manner with claims that diversification is an easy fix.
While we all understand there are no easy answers for agriculture at a time of great uncertainty, a dose of common sense from our Ministers would certainly be a step in the right direction.