Opinion: Weather woes add to Brexit blues for British farming

It’s been a dry autumn and winter here in East Anglia and across much of the UK as well.

On the one hand it has enabled autumn work on the land – drilling, potato lifting and sugar beet harvesting – to be accomplished in record time without too many problems. And apart from a bit of mildew on winter barleys, autumn cereals look as well as they have ever done.

See also: How farmers coped in the drought of 1976

But ponds are half empty, ditches are almost dry, water tables are low and many farm reservoirs are well below capacity.

OK, I am writing this in early February, the month that traditionally “fills dykes” and in theory there is still lots of time to correct the deficit. After all, the 2018 “Beast from the East” didn’t start until the end of February, so perhaps I’m worrying too soon.

But if we don’t get heavy precipitation of rain or snow, and if we have another summer drought like last year, where will we be?

I know I am anticipating difficulties that may not happen. Some might say we seldom get two consecutive years with the same weather pattern. But remember 1975 and 1976? And some forecasters, who know more about it than me, have been predicting what I fear.

We must hope the experts are wrong because if they are right we could be looking at low yields, poor quality and depressed incomes, a combination of short-term problems that we do not need given the other issues we might face this year and beyond.

Indeed the effects of current uncertainty have already begun affecting potential farm returns. Only a few weeks ago the ex-farm value of wheat was above £170/t, but now currency changes driven by Brexit speculation have cut futures prices to nearer production cost.

And we don’t even know yet whether we will be in or out of the EU in six weeks’ time. Nor do we know whether an alternative solution to the Northern Ireland “backstop” will have been found, or whether we will be out with a deal, or out with “no deal”.

Farmers leaders have warned of the catastrophic implications of no deal and, for a couple of days after the House of Commons vote on the amendment that instructed Theresa May to go to Brussels and renegotiate a deal, I was optimistic.

But I reckoned without the obduracy of European politicians – or perhaps British vacillation was just too much for them.

However, I find it difficult to believe they will continue their negative stance. Europe, and Ireland in particular, need us as much as we need them and I still dare to hope an agreement will be possible.

I am aware, of course, that other options are still on the table, including a second referendum. For what it’s worth, I would be against that idea. All it would achieve would be yet more lies from both sides which would divide the country even more than it is now.

We’ve done it once and had the result. Politicians should now support Theresa May to get the best deal she can – and get on with it.

No more delay, please. I for one have had a belly full of Brexit…

David Richardson farms about 400ha of arable land near Norwich, Norfolk, in partnership with his son Rob

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