WHO WOULD have thought this time last year that we would be in the same place as 2021 morphs into 2022?

As I write this in the run-up to Christmas it looks as if we are heading for stringent Covid control measures that might be in place by the time you read the words. One day, coronavirus will be no worse than a common cold but in the meantime we all have to take care with who we meet, where we go, and what we do.

The last 21 months have seen a period of real change for the farming community in the UK. For a start, many farmers are seeing more members of the public than ever before after people discovered the delights of country walks. Many of them were also accompanied by the novelty of a new dog and a side effect for livestock farmers has been an increase in worrying because new dog owners don’t always appreciate the nature of their docile pet when it’s off the lead in a field of sheep or cows, particularly when those animals have young at foot.

Happily, this new relationship with other humans has gone rather better for many in the agricultural community. People have started to appreciate what farmers do for them in the provision of food.

When lockdown came into effect in March last year there was panic. While toilet rolls don’t grow in fields so farmers couldn’t help there the field of opportunity did widen as residents turned to local farm shops to fill the void left by gaps on supermarket shelves. Farm gate sales of a wide range of commodities, from milk and eggs to many varieties of meat, increased many times over with the result that farm incomes benefitted because those increases in customers were not coming via a retailer middleman or supermarket demanding a cut in the money.

With that rise in customers came an increasing appreciation of food quality and this is something that has stuck. While few farm shop operators have seen the vast queues enjoyed by one J Clarkson and his Diddly Squat operation near Chipping Norton that brought a mass of complaints from locals, there has been a sustainable increase in retail activity that has not withered as lockdown eased and was again greatly appreciated in the run-up to Christmas when direct supplies of turkey and other meats got round the supply problem that some large retailers were experiencing.

If this love affair with farming continues into 2022 then so much the better. I think it will, at least in the short to medium term.

Arable farmers have also seen prices rising, with grains and oil seed rape reaching levels not seen for years – in the case of the latter, never previously seen at all. But it’s not all making hay while the sun shines because farms are big consumers of energy and we all know what’s happened to prices in that sector. Never before have farmers with barn roofs covered in solar panels been more appreciative of a sunny weather forecast!

There’s big change ahead though as the farming payment system changes to replace the old CAP system. We are all waiting for the details and hoping for the best but fearing the worst!

Kevin Prince has wide experience of farming and rural business in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy. His family also run a diversified farm with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.