Flindt on Friday: Weak pound worries? Not on this farm

All being well, in a few weeks’ time, with harvest done and dusted, and if I can keep myself to the new regime of late drilling, we’ll be off to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to drop off “son number two” at university.

And there are so many things I’m looking forward to: first, a long drive that actually takes me somewhere (unlike a day’s combining).

Second, a tsunami of nostalgia as Hazel and I go back to where we met 38 years ago. Will the Wimpy burger bar in Northumberland Street – where I wooed Hazel by making duck noises with a plastic straw – still be there? (I knew how to show a girl a good time).

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

But the really exciting bit will come once the teaching starts.

I tried as hard as I could to get him to study Agricultural Engineering (like his father), or Agricultural and Food Marketing (like his mother), or even plain Agriculture (like many of the nation’s farming elite) but no; he had his sights set on Politics and Economics.

Now, when he first announced this, I was about to launch into my “You’ll be bringing shame and dishonour on this family – don’t you ever darken my doorway again!” routine – but then had a thought: it would actually be very handy to have an economist in the family.

Brexit bonus

It’s true that most financial news stories include the words “against economists’ expectations” and that they have predicted seven of the past five recessions.

But I hope that after a few months of top-quality teaching, he’ll be able to solve the greatest mystery in modern farming: why do all the farming authorities and experts treat the weak pound as being bad news?

The single biggest positive event in my farm’s finances has been the huge drop in the pound against the euro since the Brexit vote.

My annual subsidy cheque has been boosted year on year, without me lifting a finger. The value of the 2,000-odd tons of stuff I grow and sell is boosted by every single drop in the pound, completely independently of my skill as a farmer or what the weather has done.

Yes, the prices achieved by Hazel’s livestock have struggled – but that’s oversupply, not currency.

“But inputs”, they cry. “All our inputs will soar in price.” This brings up another interesting economic principle – and it’s one I discussed with my son during his Economics A-level.

The price of stuff varies according to what the buyer can afford. In other words, sellers charge what they can get. Predictions of what input prices “will” be in two or three years’ time are fatuous.

Pound stretcher

It would be a great little exercise for the AHDB to work out what would have happened to the finances of an average mixed farm like mine had the Brexit vote gone the other way, and the pound leapt upwards against the euro by the same percentage, especially with EU subsidy payments also being phased out.

(The AHDB won’t do this, of course; they have an anti-Brexit message to pursue).

We were on an iffy financial footing four years ago – things are a lot healthier now. We’re investing it all – preparing for Farmageddon. If it happens.

The great news is that son number two has his sights set on a career as a serial quangocrat, flitting effortlessly from agency to NGO, from “authority” to charity, doing no real work but earning a fortune.

He’ll be able to keep his parents feather-bedded in luxury for the rest of their days – especially if he ends up at the National Trust. That would be our biggest input – rent – sorted.


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