Not too long ago, farmers were praying for rain, but now surveying our flattened crops and flooded fields, we’re wishing we hadn’t prayed quite so hard. There’s a lesson to be learned here about pushing for a no-deal Brexit, says arable farmer Tom Clarke.
Ten days ago arable farmers across the South and East of England were praying for rain to end the remarkable dry spell we’ve endured since spring 2018.
This week we got what we wanted. Good and hard. In many places, crops lie flattened and fields flooded.
The moral of this story is to be careful what you wish for. If it comes, it might not be quite what, how or when you wanted it.
A lot of the drivers behind Brexit are the same things making farming more fraught too, and I’m afraid some farmers may reap what they sow.
If you believe in the will of the people, then as a farmer you can’t complain about a jury deciding glyphosate causes cancer, despite overwhelming evidence it is safe.
If you feel a passionate fight against decades of establishment consensus is a noble quest, you must excuse vegan activists promoting propaganda against livestock and dairy farming.
If you agree we’ve ‘had enough of experts’, then you can’t counter when Wild Justice want to ban predator control to ‘reduce unnecessary death and destruction in the countryside’.
If you think compromise is wrong and solutions must be pure, total and immediate, then you cannot fault the decision to ban neonicotinoid seed treatments in non-flowering crops – made on a precautionary and political basis, without decisive supporting evidence.
If hyped-up fears of mass immigration, a Euro Army or Turkey joining the EU made you vote leave, then you can’t blame urbanites for believing scare stories about GM, animal ‘torture’ or fields ‘drenched’ in chemicals.
We’ve got ourselves into a right mess. Stalemate reigns. The public voted for square circles.
Parliament can’t make a decision. The country remains split down the middle. A second referendum or General Election would just say the same thing again, louder and with a worse temper.
It seems there is no way out.
Theresa May’s deal is about as close to a square circle as we are ever going to get. It gives everybody some of what they want.
It is the start of a longer process, not the finishing line. It is an exit ramp, a parachute, a slow burn.
By comparison, a no-deal Brexit is a brick wall, a freefall, an explosion.
So now, we’ll get a new Prime Minister before harvest.
A recent poll showed only 26 per cent of farmers favoured a no-deal Brexit, and rightly in my view.
But of the 10 candidates lined up this Tuesday, only two have ruled out no deal.
Nearly a third are actively planning it, and most of the rest would risk it happening by accident or as some kind of last resort.
A new Prime Minister won’t change any facts. Most are offering time-wasting fantasy.
Sadly for farmers, it’s more of nightmare.
Many diehard Brexiteers are free-market jihadiis, believing zero tariffs will carry a tide of cheap food to our shores.
Just like in the good old days after the Corn Laws, they say, Britain should let foreigners grow our food, while we (they) get on with more important things – like gunboat diplomacy and building stately homes.
Add into the bargain they hide beneath green camouflage, seeking popularity by pandering to the anti-science, anti-farming prejudices which abound.
Climate breakdown and population growth mean that farming – growing more food and repairing the environment – will be the biggest, most important job on the planet for the next 30 years.
It will only be possible with technological innovation and profits to reinvest. With that, the UK would be among the best-places agriculture industries in the world.
Yet only one candidate for the Conservative leadership has voluntarily mentioned the rural economy, farming and the impact of Brexit. One, out of ten!
It was Rory Stewart, someone who despite his good sense is unlikely to win – at the time of writing his odds are 33/1.
More’s the pity as he seems to have thought about what he is saying.
What’s the worst that could happen?
Well, if we get Prime Minister Johnson or Gove, it’s likely Zak Goldsmith, or someone similar, will be the next Defra Secretary.
Be very careful what storms you wish for, especially if you’re a farmer.
Tom can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke