Farm groups are very focused on trade policy, but their time would be better spent pushing for farmers to get a fairer price for their food, says Cornish lamb and beef farmer Rona Amiss.
Brexit, what Brexit?
The one thing that obsessed people for months has all but disappeared from the daily news, with R ratings and death figures taking top billing.
Our priority on the farm has gone from coping with wet weather to being desperate for rain as we seem to have missed even the tiny showers, while the relentless strong wind and sunshine has caused drought conditions.
My optimism on being part of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme trials and tests has now faded, being replaced by ad hoc zoom meetings that don’t even have the benefit of a free pasty to keep me awake.
There seems to be a real danger that the aim of having some farmer input will be lost to the consultant environmentalists who are able to push through their agendas.
In Cornwall, we have lots of very large veg and bulb growers who have been worried about the Brexit impact on labour.
Many have been advertising for staff, and I know some locals who have applied for positions but haven’t even had a reply.
Obviously my experience won’t be statistically significant, but I can’t help wondering that the ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign was not also tied up with putting political pressure on to bring in more European workers.
I sometimes feel there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we never really get to hear or understand as a peasant farmer.
It’s the same with the great demand to protect our standards in trade talks. I quite agree that we should have high standards.
I would love everyone to buy British and I also want our food grown in a well-regulated and safe way.
But I feel very cautious of all this shouting about our standards being the best in the world.
Cauliflowers being sold in the supermarket for £1 require people to work extremely long hours for a rate of pay that, although legal, for the level of skill and unsociable hours is not great.
But it’s not just the veg industry.
Large livestock units being pushed on price have to trim costs across the board, and something has to be sacrificed.
This sacrifice may simply be a farmer having to work exceptionally long hours or pay himself below the minimum wage, or it could be stretching the welfare codes.
Is this acceptable? Is the demand for trade protection the wrong campaign?
Would the NFU be better demanding a fair price from the customer, and farmers showing a bit of solidarity by refusing contracts with supermarkets which are driving down standards?
These are not just Brexit issues. It’s been a long drive to the bottom over the last 20 years, allowed by farmers seduced by supermarket contracts.
Maybe Covid-19 will focus people’s minds on where and how they want their food produced.
Being absolutely sure that British food is produced to the best standards, then making sure these standards are communicated, would surely let the retail customer vote with their purse?
Rona can be found tweeting at @grassfedsheep