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The challenges of the past decade have left farmers battle-hardened, not battle-weary

There have been a lot of challenges for farmers over the past 10 years, but they have left us battle-hardened and ready to take on the world, not battle-weary and cowered, says NFU deputy president Guy Smith.

So another decade turns the wheel, and suddenly we are in the 2020s.

 

One minor advantage being that as a phrase ‘the twenties’ trips off the tongue a lot better than ‘the teens’, or even worse ‘the noughties’.

 

I remember in 2010 chairing a conference called ‘20:20 vision. What does the next decade hold for U.K. farming?’

 

Thinking back, some of the speakers did seem to have Nostradamus-like powers in predicting greater commodity price volatility and the further rise of the green agenda.

 

But in hindsight, it wasn’t what was predicted that sticks in the memory, it’s more what wasn’t predicted.

 

No-one talked about more challenging weather.

 

Extreme

 

In retrospect, the 2010s will probably be remembered by many farmers for its run of droughts and floods, with extreme weather becoming an ‘every other year’ event.

 

It seems apt that we have just seen the decade close with one of the most difficult back ends anyone can remember, with many farms barely turning a wheel on the land from mid-September onwards.

 

The prospects of harvest 2020 don’t look good. Not the best way to start a new decade.

 

The other notable thing no-one predicted in 2010 was Brexit and the political volatility around it.

 

Most decades in British political history see two general elections.

 

The 2010s had four, not to mention a seismic referendum – the result of which will dominate the 2020s.

 

Bookies

 

I’m not sure the bookies were offering odds in 2010 of the chances of a 2019 election with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn as party leaders, but you suspect similar odds would have been offered on Accrington Stanley winning the Champions League.

 

So who is prepared to have a punt as to what the 2020s might hold for UK agriculture? Who has got the 20:20 vision now?

 

Who’s going to put a tenner on Greta Thunberg being UK Prime Minister in 2030? And before someone points out that’s impossible as Greta is Swedish, I’d remind them Boris Johnson was born in New York.

 

It’s also worth remembering here that one of the more controversial things about predicting the next UK Prime Minister after Boris is presuming the United Kingdom still exists.

 

So, full of the bravado a new decade brings, I’m going to push the boat out by predicting we will definitely leave the EU in 2020.

 

Plucky

 

Yes, I do realise that’s about as plucky as for-telling some rainy days or a new leader for the Labour Party.

 

For me back home on my farm in Essex, I’m preparing for a decade of greater volatility. I’m worried about having too many chips on one square of the roulette table.

 

For rather a long time, my business has been dependent on cereal prices and BPS payments. This needs some recalibration.

 

Having said that, I’m also conscious of the possibility that in 2030 commodity prices could have seen a ten-year bull run and support payments kept on coming.

 

New decade

 

So on that note of spreading my bets, I won’t wish you a happy new year, I’ll wish you a happy new decade.

 

Let’s make our battle cry as we enter this new decade ‘onwards and upwards’.

 

Have the challenges and the vicissitudes of the last ten years left us cowered and battle weary? Not at all.

 

We stand tall and battle hardened and ready to take on the world.

 

Guy can be found tweeting at @essexpeasant

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