Relf’s crystal ball reveals all

This year was one of wet harvests, rocketing input costs and a collective inability to finish a sentence without using the expression ‘credit crunch’. But what will 2009 bring for country dwellers? Tim Relf – a cross between Russell Grant and Mystic Meg – reads the runes

You’ll vow to drink less after the excesses of New Year’s Eve. Then you’ll see your profit forecast for 2009 and pour yourself a large one. You’ll vow to eat less then visit a farmers’ market and gorge yourself senseless on pork pies. There’ll be no be to the lengths you’ll go to to avoid doing your tax return. The Aga will play up. Your back will play up. Your pipes will freeze – which, as a lot of elderly farmers will testify, can be a very painful experience.

There’ll be a reshuffle and someone who knows nothing about farming will get the job of DEFRA Secretary. They’ll talk about being keen to listen and learn, then do exactly the opposite. Women will eagerly anticipate Valentine’s Day men will pretend it’s not happening, then have an 11th-hour “mercy run” to the village shop to buy chocolates. You’ll consider making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, but decide there are enough tossers in the countryside as it is. You’ll put off the SFP paperwork.

You’ll turn some stock out then it’ll come wet, so you’ll put them back in for a bit then turn them out again. Then they’ll escape a few times. Then die. With lambing under way, you’ll find yourself watching TV at all hours of day and night. Twenty minutes of Jeremy Kyle’s show and you decide those sheep have got the right idea. Sometimes dying seems the better option. The clocks go forward, but you will forget to change yours. Then you’ll spend at least an hour trying to work out whether you’ve had an hour more – or an hour less – sleep. You will put off the paperwork for SFP.

You’ll read something about farming profitability going up and the public appreciating farmers. Then you will see the date: April 1. You finally get time to buckle down to those SFP forms. Armed with a pot of tea, a calculator and a pile of maps you’ll be determined this year will be different – you’ll whiz through it in one sitting. You discover that you’ve been farming a neighbour’s field for the past 27 years. And Top 20 is in fact 24 acres. It’s Grand National time and you decide, unlike in previous years, you’ll go for a favourite. The 80-1 horse will romp home.

The sap begins to rise and thousands of Young Farmers go on the hunt for partners at the convention in Blackpool. The Aga will start working again, just in time to coincide with the hottest May on record. You’ll start being nice to your silage contactor, ahead of needing him next month.

With the 21st marking the longest day, there’ll be stuff on the news about some strange people with long hair doing peculiar things in Wiltshire (conservationists, they call themselves). You take advantage of the extra hour to squeeze another hour’s work in. Couples across Britain will have an argument about “never going on holiday”. A trip to Cereals will give you a great chance to see what’s new in the world of arable farming, including state-of-the-art driverless tractors. Your tractor driver will get very grumpy when you expound the virtues of such kit.

The weathermen will predict a heatwave, so it’ll pour with rain. Merely mentioning the word “combine”, in fact, will spark a downpour. You’ll go to The Game Fair and spend far more than you should on clothes/fishing tackle/gun stuff (or, more likely, a combination of all these items). The Royal Show won’t be as good as it used to be. The Royal Welsh will be better than it used to be. Your collies have puppies. You see the latest bill from your vet. You’ll have puppies.

You’ll squeeze in a visit to your local agricultural show, drink too much and say something you later regret to the vicar. You’ll enjoy sampling an array of local food (and maybe even try a tart). It’s so-called silly season at Westminster and the news will be full of rubbish. No change there, then. The Daily Mail, amid all its stories on house prices falling to £3.50, will find room for a bit of farmer bashing. They’ll also enter the GM debate, with a typically well researched and extremely balanced piece on GMs under the headline, “Frankestein Foods bring doom death threat to all humans”.

Students across the country will have had a summer of breaking machinery – reversing into fences being the tried-and-tested method, although some will show great imagination coming up with new ways to wreck equipment. You’ll be feeling sleepy. There again, that’s not surprising you have been working 18-hour days for a long period.

Fertiliser prices will rise. Manufacturers will blame the political climate in some country you’ve never heard of and have trouble pronouncing for this. The clocks go back. You forget to change yours then spend at least an hour trying to work out whether you’ve had an hour more – or an hour less – sleep. A new term at agricultural college begins, which is great news for students, but expensive for mums and dads. The shooting season starts, so men will tell their other halves it’s great opportunity for making contacts and networking. This argument is undermined when they roll in at midnight blazing drunk. With an empty bottle of port down their trousers.

Fertiliser prices go up more. Manufacturers say the situation in that country you’ve never heard of and have trouble pronouncing has got worse. A strange quango will be set up with the remit of protecting a pointless animal or flower that isn’t really endangered and that no one cares about, but will become protected with the result that a lot of things you now do will become illegal and to carry on doing them will result in a £6m fine or 25 years imprisonment. The budget mean that wherever you live, whatever your circumstances, you’ll be worse off.

You’ll flirt with the idea of buying a new combine, but end up going for a new wheelbarrow. Times are tough. Christmas looms. You’ll eat too many Quality Street, drink too much whisky and wine (not necessarily at the same time). You’ll also get your own back on that goose that pecked you earlier in the year in the midden (painful) by cooking it with a nice stuffing. You’ll flirt, for about 2.3 seconds, with the idea of getting out of farming, of calling it a day, selling the stock and getting out. Then you’ll head out to feed the stock, and remember why – despite everything Ð it’s the best job in the world.


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