Farmers must learn to work together after Brexit to change things for the better
In the tough times ahead, I hope farmers will see there is more to gain from working together than from being king of your own sandcastle, says arable farmer and NFU Sugar Board member Tom Clarke.
I’m not one of life’s worriers. I’d even call myself an optimist.
But this year, actually these last few years, have tested those traits to the limit.
It would be very easy to sit down in front of my keyboard and hack out a great lament on the state of the country, the prospects for agriculture, or the fate of the planet.
Anyone wishing to comment in that way has had ample material to work with since 2016, and never more so than now.
I’ve found myself in the same rut, complaining about things, carrying the weight of the world.
Well, I’m bored of it. It’s a draining habit. I’ve decided to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.
So now I sit here in front of my keyboard – and frankly at a bit of a loss for what to say.
Of course if you are a believer in Brexit, in Boris, in bull markets then you must be feeling fantastic.
You’ve got what you wanted and even though none of them are delivering just yet, you know, deep down, that they are about to.
Some people genuinely believe we are about to embark on a new golden age.
I envy them their uncomplicated certainty. I’ve never been one for religion, I think the buck stops with us, and you make your own luck.
What’s worse than complaining?
Well, it’s mocking those who have hope. And boy, oh boy is it easy to mock!
We’re at the stage where satirists have nowhere to go, trumped by real life.
The thing is that they have a point – the Brexiteers, the ScotsNats, the Climate change deniers – no one particularly likes being told what to do.
If you feel the ones telling you you’re wrong have nothing in common with you, don’t understand or appreciate your situation, why let them?
Independence has its appeal.
But, independence makes your world smaller, because you only ever declare independence from something that is broader than you.
Independence is like moving from the shoal into the fish tank.
What really works, what makes little fish like European nations, farmers or voters more powerful is working together.
But that can be hard work. There are inbuilt differences to overcome. There are things in this world that make us all different, and things that make us all the same.
Farmers should know this better than many. An ear of wheat in Cambridgeshire, is little different to one in France, Kazakhstan or Argentina.
When it rains, or doesn’t, it’s from the same sky.
So whatever happens in the next six months, this is where I draw my hope from.
The things that make us all the same, the respect and understanding of what makes us different and the task of working together.
In some small way I’ve seen that first hand in the last few months.
I’m an elected member of the NFU Sugar Board. Sugar Beet growers have had a tough time recently.
Our crops are crippled by an insect-borne virus, extreme weather and a Government trade policy seemingly designed to favour our competitors.
Homegrown sugar beet farmers are small fry. In the great scheme of things we are a very small crop, and only supply half our own domestic market. Many Brits (60 per cent according to a recent survey) don’t even know we exist.
But we have one great strength, one secret weapon. We work together.
We fund and are represented by one body who acts on our behalf, negotiating our contracts, directing our R&D and lobbying our Government. No matter if you grow ten acres or tens of thousands.
This year our Board have secured a ground-breaking crop insurance scheme, funded by our processor, to help mitigate the losses to the virus.
We have also for the first time secured partners who will open up the futures market to enable growers to price their own crop.
We have urgently requested an audience with Defra to discuss further measures – a request that has hopefully been answered by the time you read this.
None of this would be possible if we didn’t act together.
I’m hopeful that in the tough times ahead more farmers will see the logic of working together, that there is more to gain from it than from being king of your own sandcastle, and though it is hard work it’s our best chance to change things for the better.
And where farmers lead, I’m hopeful voters and nations will follow.
Tom can be found tweeting at @Tom_Clarke
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