When we were children, my Mum gave me and my sister the same advice: “If it’s not nice, don’t do it.” This was always sufficiently vague to keep an unadventurous Catholic like me on the rails (although my sister interpreted it more liberally). At least neither of us became a Tesco buyer so I guess the advice sank in.
I’m like my Mum; I just want life to be “nice”. I’m not a thrill seeker. I didn’t enter farming for the excitement or the glamour. I don’t want to drink piña coladas on a yacht with fabulous people with fake tans. Or even real tans. I’m perfectly content growing a bit better crops each year, keeping the yard and machinery tidy and planting the odd tree or hedge. So long as I occasionally get a slice of cake with my coffee then life is “nice”. Oh… and a profit. Damn, I forgot to mention that. I need one of them too.
In modern business, people are trained to be “not nice”. A buyer recently said to me: “Well, it might not be nice, but that’s what I’m paid to do.” Maybe Himmler would have used the same defence, or Debbie McGee.
Strangely most farmers don’t agree with me. Even Alan Dedicoat (know as the Voice of the Balls on the national lottery) seemed to take exception to him and rudely cut him short during his speech at the Farmers Weekly awards.
Yet I was on the telephone to a friend last week and he had just met the secretary of state for the first time.
“He’s a really nice bloke,” he said. (Actually he said “By ‘eck that Hilary Benn’s a nice blowke” but I translated the Yorkshire dialect for you so that I didn’t look like a racist.)
I met Hilary Benn earlier this year and I really liked him too. I think that for such an honest, fair and hard-working man, Hilary Benn gets a hard time from the farming industry. His views are always believed to be much more extreme than they actually are and his efforts never receive gratitude.
Sure, I disagree with his decision against a badger cull, but he waded through a lot more information to arrive at his verdict than I did to arrive at mine. He’s a thoughtful man and determined to be fair.
On matters like the withdrawal of pesticides and compulsory set-aside, he made a judgement that actually fell in favour of food producers rather than hippies. He has to defend those decisions to some very unhappy environmentalists and we know what a miserable breed they are, even at the best of times.
There is only a slim chance we will have the same DEFRA minister this time next year and that makes me feel a bit sad. Niceness is about familiarity. It takes a year for a new minister to understand his portfolio and even longer to learn to understand us farmers. As soon as he grows to like us, he has to move on. The same is true of supermarket buyers. It’s a ploy from their masters to stop nice relationships from forming – like when jailors and hostages become friends.
Putting your principles above popularity or profit are the marks of a good man – it happens too rarely in Parliament. If more people were like Hilary Benn, the world would be a nicer place.
Read more from Matthew Naylor on his blog.
Matthew Naylor farms 162ha (400 acres) of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a Nuffield scholar.