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Farmers like to get things done and move on, but we can’t make a country job of Brexit

Delays and slow progress irk my farmer instincts, but I’d rather see us take our time with Brexit because a country job just won’t do, says Guy Smith, NFU deputy president.

Farmers as a breed like to ‘get the job done’. It’s probably because we are usually trying to defy the elements.

 

Farming is often a race against the weather. So if we are drilling wheat or baling hay then we feel a compulsion to get the field finished.

 

There’s nothing like the smug feeling of finishing harvest the day the weather breaks. There’s nothing more frustrating than a catchy harvest that drags on.

 

In the tortuously wet and prolonged harvest of 2012, a local wag cheered me up by introducing me to the term ‘a bachelor harvest’ - that being a risqué euphemism for the notion ‘you have to get it when you can.’

 

Country job

 

The downside of this farmer desire to ‘get the job done’ is we sometimes make do with ‘a country job’.

 

If the fence post isn’t very straight, the temptation is to leave it be because ‘that’ll do’. How many of us have laid concrete but not given it enough time to harden off because we felt we just had to get on?

 

Which leads me to everyone’s least favourite topic – Brexit. We are all fed up with it. In farmer parlance we want to get the job done and move on.

 

But here’s the thing, if there was ever a time farmers shouldn’t make do with a ‘country job’, then this is it.

 

Colour

 

Let’s be clear, a bad Brexit deal combined with a bad agricultural policy could colour the fortunes of our industry for a generation for the worse.

 

It’s not so much the impact a badly-thought-through Brexit could have on the current generation, its the impact it could have on the next that really matters.

 

For agriculture to try to unpick overnight forty years of intense policy and trade integration with the EU would be a high risk strategy.

 

One of my heroes, Lord Henry Plumb, reminded me after the 2016 referendum that in the 1970s, when the UK joined what was then the EEC, it did so over a number of years in a phased manner. It enabled Brutish farming to enter a new world with time to adjust.

 

Common sense tells me the same should apply to how we leave. Farming, of all industries, needs the ease of transition rather than the shock of revolution.

 

Suddenly

 

We are locked into long-term seasonal and biological cycles which span months if not years. We cannot suddenly, drastically alter production.

 

Working with the volatility of the weather and the markets is challenge enough. Add sudden political, regulatory and trade volatility into that mix and things get rather unmanageable.

 

It’s like being on a yacht at sea, trying to chart the best course while in the teeth of a storm force gale, only for a flotilla of icebergs to have come into view.

 

So for me, while delay and slow progress might irk my farmer instincts, I’m happy to take our time over Brexit and get it right.

 

Guy can be found tweeting at @essexpeasant


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