“A UK farmer’s future? The survivors will be keeping ‘pets’ and ‘gardening’, while they jet in poor quality food.”

Newborn calf on Margaret Boyde’s farm. Photo by the author

Margaret Boyde is not happy. She is unamused that the NFU have sent wheatsheaf brooches to all MPs and beyond livid that the 51 who voted against measures to protect our food and animal welfare standards in any trade deals are wearing this mark of support for farming ahead of ‘Back British Farming Day’ .

Her MP is Mel Stride, one of the seven Devon Conservative MPs who voted against Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish’s amendment, an amendment which would have enshrined in law this government’s much-vaunted support for maintaining high standards after we complete the Brexit process. We now know a bit more about respect for the rule of law, mind you. And as for promises? Bah! Promises are for wimps!

Margaret -‘Moggy’ to friends – takes a deep breath.

“My anxiety levels are at the highest they’ve been since June 23rd 2016. Brexit was always going to be a disaster. A no deal will finish lots of us off. I just don’t see how we can survive. It’s crazy. We are the ones who pushed for higher animal welfare standards in the EU and now we are the ones who will be allowing food in produced in conditions that would make any reasonable person weep.”

“In the EU,” she continues, “animals have been categorised as sentient beings. They feel pain, grief and fear just as we do. There isn’t a single federal law in the US that acknowledges this. Animal welfare legislation is virtually non-existent. Animals are a commodity. A product. The US should have to meet our standards, not the other way around. We drove those standards. We have the oldest and largest animal welfare charity in the world in the RSPCA, for goodness sake. What are we doing, destroying our reputation for the highest standards in food and farming?”

She doesn’t trust the government to keep its promises not to take part in a race to the bottom. “Johnson.” she mutters, contemptuously, “He has nothing to say to us. Everything he says is a lie. I keep hoping that the public will realise where we are headed and that they won’t stand for it. “

What about George Eustice?, I ask, tentatively.

“He’s almost worse. Last year, I asked Minette Batters if it was true that the government were planning a cull of the national flock when they thought lambs would be finishing just before we crashed out, before we got the extension. I asked Mel Stride, too, and he wrote to Eustice. Eustice wrote back saying it was all nonsense, adding a handwritten PS – ‘this media hysteria about the cull is untrue” But, guess what. Minette said it was true. It might not have been as much as 50 per cent, but maybe 35 to 40 per cent. And Eustice calls it ‘media hysteria’! He doesn’t care what he says. He’ll just say whatever he thinks people want to hear. Like Johnson.”

At the business level, Moggy is naturally very worried about a marketplace flooded with cheap meat . As it was, beef prices were so bad last ear that she had to keep her cattle for an extra year. This year, uncertainty about Brexit, jobs and the impact of Covid-19 all mean that people are buying minced meat and little else. There’s a glut of hind quarter beef, partly because of this and partly because the restaurant and catering trades are on their knees.

photo by the author

As for tariffs, Moggy says farmers are woefully, wilfully ignorant about their impact. A farmer at a recent regional NFU meeting got very heated when NFU regional director Melanie Squires told them that tariffs were unavoidable in the event of a no deal. He shouted her down, saying “They want our beef and lamb. They’ll never impose tariffs. Never!” He simply refused to believe that WTO rules would make tariff imposition obligatory.

I ask her what measures she is taking to cope with what’s to come. She shrugs.

“What can I do? I do the best I can. I farm in an environmental fashion. I don’t use concentrates. I look after my pasture. Permanent pasture is a wonderful carbon sink, as are the hedgerows. I keep them higher than most do to provide shelter and to encourage young trees. “

photo by the author

Moggy gazes out of the window. Sheep, mainly home-bred Suffolk Herdwick crosses, graze in the field nearest the house The cattle, out in the more distant pasture, have been in the family since 1964. They are Devons crossed with Sussex, a combination which, she mischievously observes, results in ‘better conformation.’

“I suppose they’ll have to go, if we do a Trump deal” she says, wistfully. There’ll be no market for them. Lots of farmers tried to sell their herds last year. It was heartbreaking. Nobody wanted them. Will the government pay us to keep our livestock as pets? The thought of them jetting in poor quality food made from badly-treated animals makes me so angry. It’s not good for anyone, not good for the environment.”

She sighs.

“Is that what our future is as farmers here in the UK? To keep pets and to garden? It’s not what I want. I’m a farmer. I want to farm. I want to care for my animals. I am useful. I grow food. I feed people. Why would any government threaten that?”