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Forget Brexit, it’s the coronavirus which will do lasting damage to UK farming

Farmers should not worry about Brexit, but the coronavirus, which could kill off many small agricultural shows and sever the rural community’s links with wider society, says Dave Herbert, a South Welsh smallholder producing eggs and poultry.

First up feel I should make a confession.

 

I haven’t read or watched a stitch of news for the last few months.

 

Not really ideal when I should be keeping myself abreast of the current state of affairs considering my work, my journalistic commitments and in order to ascertain the current state of play with the coronavirus.

 

But that virus is exactly why I haven’t been keeping up with things.

 

It’s all we were hearing about, all day, every day, a constant deluge of information, misinformation and speculation.

 

Remind you of anything? I’ll give you a hint – it starts with a ‘B’.

 

Experts

 

Once again we have armchair experts who’ve suddenly decided they’re knowledgeable about virology, immunology and pharmacology instead of politics, European law and parliamentary procedure.

 

Then there’s the conspiracy theorists – my favourite is that the whole Covid-19 thing is a whitewash by the British government to turn our attention away from Brexit.

 

I give this about as much credence as I do to flat-Earthers, anti-vaxxers and vegans.

 

What I have noticed, however, is that while on lockdown people seem to have suddenly become more interested in producing their own food.

 

Even now flour is hard to come by – so people must be going back to the ways of yore when they made their own bread.

 

Enormously

 

I can certainly confirm that as far as fowl go, stock prices have shot up enormously as the demand for home-produced eggs grows.

 

This on one hand is a great thing – we’ve asked for people to become more engaged with their food and its production systems, but why has it taken a virus to force this level of engagement?

 

My introduction to agriculture really came from my first experience at visiting a local agricultural show.

 

And I’m sure that is the case for many others, which is ultimately the reason many of these shows and their associate charities came into being.

 

To share technology and system developments with fellow farmers and to introduce the world of farming to the public on a wider scale.

 

Cancelled

 

This year, of course, nearly all shows have been cancelled.

 

Indeed, the pinnacle of the show year (for me at least) is the Royal Welsh.

 

It has been estimated they have lost out to the tune of £1.2m due to the forced cancellation and that it will take 4 to 5 years for them to recover.

 

If a show of that scale and with so much income can be in financial jeopardy, then just imagine what the smaller shows are going through.

 

It is entirely feasible that some of these may fold permanently and that the link to their communities will be lost forever.

 

Fearmongering

 

Now, I recall remainers harping on about Brexit being the death knell for such organisations, as they felt lower food standards and a lack of trust in our ability to provide for our country would damage us irreparably and cause the death and ill health of millions – somewhat of an over statement and a type of fearmongering I could never get on board with if I’m honest.

 

And I feel that our reaction to this pandemic has been over the top too.

 

I am far more concerned about this loss of the show scene than I am about any potential Brexit pit-falls.

 

I am worried that education, the sharing of knowledge and the decline of community spirit that inherently comes with these events will cause far greater harm to our country and our ability to prosper than any potential ‘chlorinated chicken’ or ‘hormone injected’ beef would.

 

Lead

 

Although we have seen a backtracking of governmental statements regarding food security and animal welfare, I still believe Britain will lead the way post-Brexit in these areas.

 

As much as I would like to think we are all able to support local butchers and greengrocers, I am all too aware that a great many of the public rely on cheaper food production systems in order to put a meal on their table.

 

So therefore, particularly with regards to processed foods, there is going to be a demand for a cheaper (albeit unethical) source of proteins and meat.

 

I will continue to do my best to provide our own produce for my family and to continue providing high-quality birds and eggs to my customers.

 

This hasn’t changed throughout the pandemic, and nor will it change post-Brexit.

 

Engagement

 

But my real worry is the level of engagement and interest in our production systems and agriculture as a whole will be horrifically damaged by the closure and loss of these grass-roots events.

 

Brexit hasn’t caused this, an influenza-like virus has done it.

 

We can’t blame Brussels or a referendum and there’s no crazy people stood outside Westminster hollering and hooting about the impact of the virus on our economy and demanding a change to the order of things.

 

It is only now, as the lockdown restrictions begin to lift (albeit slower in Wales as we have an opposition government who simply HAVE to do things differently to their London counterparts), that we can begin to truly assess the impact on our business and livelihoods.

 

Simmering

 

And the whole while, Brexit has been quietly simmering away in the background, and the tasks required to bring our transition into being have been continued by our hard-working government offices.

 

So, pardon my French, but bugger your Brexit worries, it’s this damn virus and our over-reaction to it that’s going to cause the issues further down the line.

 

But, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we’re heading towards it at a good old rate of knots now.

 

We are going to come out of the other side more resilient and more determined than ever, and I truly hope I will be back on the show scene as early as this year if the Royal Welsh Society are able to proceed with a Winter Fair.

 

Natter

 

Hopefully I’ll see many of you readers there and we can have a good old natter, face to face (without the need for social distancing) about what we’ve gone through and where we’re going.

 

I just hope the same rings true for the smaller shows too.

 

Until then, keep your chins up and keep doing the great work you’ve always done.

 

Dave can be found tweeting at @hermitcrabeggs

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