Flindt on Friday: Here’s my take on Gove’s ‘shampoo report’

When the mighty Minette rings you up and tells you to do something, by heck you do it – even if the message is delivered by an automated evening call that somehow bypasses the Telephone Preference Service.

Her instruction was clear: go and read Mr Gove’s lengthy 64-page consultation document, “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit” or, the “Shampoo Report” as it shall henceforth be known, thanks to its obsession with “health and harmony”.

So I did, expecting little, and wasn’t disappointed. The grubby fingerprints of the powerful agri-eco-lobbies could be seen all over each page as I scrolled all 64 of them down my screen.

See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns

All their favourites (and unsolved contradictions) were there: soil is damaged, but somehow we farmers are still producing high quality food.

We must boost yields, while doing all we can to remove plant food from the atmosphere. The CAP is blamed for the decline in farmland birds, with no mention of the multitude of predators that have arrived in the past couple of decades.

Grammatically-challenged pages

And, somewhat inevitably, the ultimate country contradiction pops up again in the Shampoo Report: we must do more for countryside wildlife while encouraging more public access.

Free-range people and their free-range dogs are incompatible with thriving wildlife. Our farm has just had another spring without a single lapwing to be seen.

They were once numerous enough to feature in the briefing for those setting off with Cambridge rollers.

The different options for reduction in payments were interesting, although the multi-thousand acre estates will already have clever schemes in place to avoid qualifying as the top, most-penalised tier.

I raised an eyebrow at plans to phase direct support out altogether – tens of thousands of bureaucrats and civil servants rely on measuring and inspecting British agriculture. Are they really going to be out of a job?

I left the livestock bit to Hazel, whose lengthy submission involved a constructive plea for a return to local abattoirs – even a fleet of “travelling” ones.

Anything to avoid the hideous long haul to vast industrial units hundreds of miles away.

I suggested she mention the absurdity of claiming “world-class welfare standards” while allowing certain ghastly slaughter techniques, just to avoid upsetting the religious offend-atrons. She said she’d leave that to me.

Also missing from the Shampoo Report is any mention of food supply. The assumption is clear across all of its grammatically-challenged pages (it’s “outside the EU”, not “outside of the EU”): food supply will always be plentiful. Mother Nature is suggesting otherwise.

Even the AHDB is taking a break from its Brexit bashing to report on the distinct possibly that “the unusual run of grain surpluses” may be coming to an end.

Theme park Britain

And how: there’s an awful lot of North American seeding kit still frozen in the barn. A long-overdue run of mediocre-to-poor harvests might reset the perspectives on the countryside’s purpose.

So that’s what I decided my reply to the Shampoo Report would be. It would have to be short and snappy, and to the point.

It would have to somehow get across to someone somewhere deep within the bowels of Defra house (who hasn’t been relocated to the RPA to read 231,694 RLE1 forms) that full shelves aren’t guaranteed.

I toyed with “Farmers make food. Food is plentiful. It won’t always be so.” But that seemed a bit long and over wordy.

Instead, on a carefully laid out A4 formal letter, I typed: “Theme park Britain won’t feed Britain”, and posted it. If that doesn’t warrant a congratulatory call from the mighty Minette, nothing will.

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha in Hampshire with his wife, Hazel.