paintball© KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock

Article 50 has been triggered. Brexit here we come. Presumably this means unbridled excitement for some. For others it signals the start of another period of uncertainty.

There are no trade agreements in place nor any guarantee there will be. And whether or not any are negotiated over the next two years, it is a racing certainty that agricultural support will decline.

When this reduction was originally proposed some years ago, there were vague hopes that rises in world prices would make up the difference.

You don’t hear that prospect talked about much any more – just the “opportunity Brexit provides to create farming policies that are good for Britain”. Whether that means for British farmers or British consumers is not clear.

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Meanwhile those who make their living by advising farmers are busily telling us to innovate and diversify in the face of uncertainty.

David RichardsonDavid Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk

But innovation is a little difficult against such inhibitions as EU restrictions and the withdrawal of plant protection products available across the non-European rest of the world with whom we will have to compete.

Diversification might seem to some a more positive way forward and many are already seeking to enhance their incomes by looking outside farming.

We, for instance, have a horse livery providing stables, grazing and services for owners who don’t have such facilities themselves. 

On the face of it, liveries are a relatively easy way to utilise traditional farm buildings not suitable for modern methods or machines. And the horses are not much trouble. Owners, however, can be very demanding and some lack understanding of the reality of the farming that has to go on around them. However, customers are always right.

Farmers’ wives in popular tourist areas have been offering bed-and-breakfast to holidaymakers for years.

It, too, can be very demanding on those providing the service and competition from other farmers wives, just along the road, often forces them to hold prices too low to make significant additional income. I’ve heard some ladies say they were better off when they were milking cows. “At least the cows didn’t complain.”

One of the most popular diversifications recently has been renting out barns as wedding venues. And you can understand the appeal compared to busy urban hotels and restaurants.

But people in posh wedding outfits don’t want to wade through slurry nor smell it, so a lot of tidying has to be done on some farms to make them attractive enough.

Then there’s glamping (posh camping on meadows), but cowpats must be removed and flush toilets provided.

Paintballing has become popular on some farms where they have areas of woodland through which overgrown schoolboys can chase one another pretending they are in the armed forces.

Clay pigeon shooting can be successful, too, provided your neighbours don’t complain about the noise or you live far enough away from civilisation for it not to matter.

But all these activities require capital. They also require skilled management and if you are not a “people person” – and many farmers are not, preferring to maintain their privacy to welcoming every Tom, Dick and Harry onto their farm – it is unlikely to be successful.

One other thought comes to mind. Hardly any of the diversifications I have mentioned, and many others I have not, involve what we as farmers regard as our core product – food.

Isn’t it sad that when we try to improve our bottom line, we instinctively look beyond where our expertise ought to lie.