Another typical Tuesday evening in the Jolly Flowerpots was drawing to a close. Behind the bar, Emily was working out the tab, under a hail of unhelpful heckling. Neighbour Robert had enjoyed his pickled egg in a bag of crisps, but had somehow bashed the back of his hand on the bar and was mopping up a warfarin-induced gore-fest.
I had just had my third and final warning from Landlady Jo for overstepping the bounds of good taste and decency. In short, it was time to go.
At that moment, one of the other Tuesday regulars asked “the question”. It’s the one that farmers nationwide have heard thousands of times in the past 18 months.
“What are you farmers going to do without subsidies after Brexit?”
Because this was the Jolly Flowerpots, and the questioner was one of the lovely Tuesday Regulars, it was asked with good nature and a hint of genuine interest, and it made a pleasant change.
Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha in Hampshire
As a farmer who campaigned actively for Brexit, I’ve been asked this question many times, but more often than not the mood behind the enquiry has been less than benevolent.
Sometimes ‘less than benevolent’ has spilled over into downright hostile.
I’ve had to defend my views vehemently in all sorts of places – some expected, some unexpected: my farmyard while waiting to load a lorry, village halls on quiz nights, halfway through a rough shoot, even an local open mic night.
I’ve had sneering contempt from NFU wonks, too, but I suppose that’s inevitable; I was refusing to do what they were telling me to do. The message was always the same, though. “Voting Brexit? You’re an idiot! You’ll get no subsidies!”
My counterargument, which never amounted to much more then “Wait and see”, seemed less than persuasive
Well, now I can reply to them all in the same way as I politely replied to my fellow Tuesday Regular. In the Queen’s Speech, the Agriculture Bill made it clear a support mechanism for farming would be in place for the next five years.
The irony, of course, is that for us tenant farmers, subsidies are almost irrelevant. They dent the overdraft for a few months, and then get chopped into four pieces and handed over to our landlords as rent on quarter days. No subsidies would simply mean the mother of all rent reviews next time one comes round.
There are times when I’m arguing with the latest walker striding confidently across a field, miles away from the right of way, and after we have done “right to roam” and “it belongs to the National Trust”, the final argument is always “but you farmers get subsidies”.
Sometimes it would be nice to reply with: “Oh no, we don’t.”
However, subsidies, in one form or another, are safe for another half decade. Think about it. No government was ever going to give up control – which is what farm support effectively means – or lay off the tens of thousands involved in its administration.
“The question” will, I predict, undergo a subtle change. “What are you farmers going to do when the subsidies stop in five years’ time?”
Well, who knows? Five years is a long time. Robert might have stopped bleeding. Emily will have mastered long division in the face of extreme distraction. And I will have worked out the boundaries of good taste and decency. Or not. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.