Few Noticed The World Has Changed


There is a saying:

‘To deny is to confirm’

The minute a body puts out press releases saying that it has never considered a policy change, everybody assumes that policy is about to be changed and they’re just waiting for a good day to bury bad news before they inform us.

The problem is that, thanks to the Ukrainian War, an awful lot of people are suffering.

Look on the bright side, at least we’re only spending money, not blood.

As a farmer I’ve been pointing out for a while that there is a looming risk of food shortages. Suddenly, large parts of the world we bought food from are no longer reliable or secure, and, in some cases, they’re not even friendly.

Now if I’ve spotted this, I’m sure that there are other people who have also read the writing on the wall, and I have no doubt that even across at Defra, their words have been acknowledged.

When we left the EU, this was seen as an opportunity by both government and the environmental lobby groups to move money from farm support to putting money into environmental schemes. I’ve taken part in some of the trials and frankly the only way I could take advantage of the vast majority of them was by cutting production.

Which is fine if you lot out there don’t mind going hungry.

When you read this Defra blog “Government reiterates commitment to environmental protections”, it opens with a ‘government spokesman’ making a strong statement:

“Claims we intend to go back on our commitment to the environment are simply not right.”

It then goes on to say:

“We’re not scrapping the schemes. In light of the pressures farmers are facing as a result of the current global economic situation, including spikes in input costs, it’s only right that we look at how best to deliver the schemes to see where and how improvements can be made. Boosting food production and strengthening resilience and sustainability come alongside, not instead of, protecting and enhancing our natural environment, and later this year we will set out more details of plans on how we will increase food security while strengthening the resilience and role of farmers as stewards of the British countryside.”

‘To deny is to confirm.’

I cannot claim to have read everything Defra has produced on these schemes but starting by talking about boosting food production and stressing the importance of increasing food security strikes me as new.

Now the fighting is going to start. All sorts of people working for various environmental lobby groups are going to pile in on this demanding that there be no U-turns in government policy. The fighting will be bitter. The environmental lobby groups are fighting for their lives against a better educated populace.

The public are already starting to cut back on their spending, so money paid to environmental charities (indeed all charities) is going to fall. If government puts less in as well, the money available to pay the salaries of the laptop classes involved in the environment will diminish. These people, like everybody else, have mortgages to pay.

The minute Putin started squeezing the gas pipelines, prices were guaranteed to go up, and equally inevitably, interest rates were going to rise. A lot of people are going to be very squeezed, very squeezed indeed, as the increase in mortgage payments makes itself felt. The problem is that whilst it’s possible for government to put some sort of cap on how much you pay for gas (which provides some protection for those urban and suburban dwellers who have access to gas but damn all for those in rural areas who don’t) capping interest rates is tricky. All that would do is see the pound spiral down so quickly we’d be looking at parity with the Turkish lira.

But it’s not just people who have been hit. A lot of companies have been borrowing money at ridiculously low rates of interest and not so much investing it as splurging it on vanity projects. Some of these projects are unravelling. Apple has apparently decided to produce six million fewer of the new iPhone14. After all, how many people actually need a new iPhone?

Other ventures have also taken a kicking. In July 2021, the share price of Beyond Meat was $150 a share. Currently it’s trading at $14.63. At the same time, during the pandemic, people in the UK increased their consumption of real meat and apparently the amount of fresh meat sold retail is 12% higher than it was three years ago. To look abroad:

“McDonald’s has ended its expanded test of its meatless McPlant burger in the U.S., the company confirmed on Thursday, without a clear indication of whether the plant-based product will make a national debut. The company’s confirmation followed continued speculation from Wall Street analysts indicating that the product underperformed those tests. An analyst with J.P. Morgan this week said that the product was pulled in many stores and low sales were cited as the primary reason.”

The problem is we had a lot of jobs which were only viable at very low interest rates because these jobs produce no return on the money spent on wages. The money for their wages comes from those employees who do actually produce something that earns the company money. As interest rates go up, the companies are going to still need those who earn the money, but frankly, I doubt they will be able to afford to keep the others. When you were paying 2% on the company overdraft you could probably afford to take on another three diversity coordinators to pad out your HR department and give you bragging rights at the next conference you were asked to address. When you’re paying 7% not only will the company not be able to afford the HR it has, it certainly won’t be able to afford to send somebody to a conference that isn’t production-related and it may not be able to afford you.

In farming we’ve become steadily more efficient. You’ll see this graph showing fertiliser use and how it drops off.

I suspect 2022 will see another large fall.

In farming we’ve got to stay on our toes and stay efficient. We have to cherish the land we’ve got that can produce a crop. 60 years on from the Bay of Pigs let’s hope our politicians do not lead us to Armageddon and that World War III does not break out.

After all, would you like to try and plough this?

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.