Covid and Brexit twin nightmares for farming industry

The portrayal of normally thronging streets and walkways rendered eerily empty is a recurring theme in horror and sci-fi movies, often used as a scene-setting device to hint at some as yet unrevealed major global disaster.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JUNE 19: The judge in the coloured dairy calves section congratulates the winner in the Royal Highland Show Case at Ingliston on July 19, 2021 in Edinburgh,Scotland. Thousands of people have logged on to watch live streaming of the Royal Highland Show, which is being held behind closed doors this year, usually up to 190,000 people would visit the agricultural show which is held over four days. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JUNE 19: The judge in the coloured dairy calves section congratulates the winner in the Royal Highland Show Case at Ingliston on July 19, 2021 in Edinburgh,Scotland. Thousands of people have logged on to watch live streaming of the Royal Highland Show, which is being held behind closed doors this year, usually up to 190,000 people would visit the agricultural show which is held over four days. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Sometimes the narrative moves forward by allowing the hero (or heroine) to discover another human being just as emotionally lost in this outlandish landscape. Other times the spookily slow revelation that the central character is being watched eventually results in a hell-for-leather chase and an unlikely escape from a pursuing pack of zombies.

While it might be over-egging the pudding a little to say I’ve been in that sort of situation a couple of times in my life, I have certainly found my over-active imagination, primed by teenage years watching too many B-movies, to be thinking along those very lines.

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And while the causes were not directly connected with the show itself, both of these eldritch events occurred at Ingliston, home of the Royal Highland Show.

The most recent was just last week. For although the behind-closed-doors showcase necessitated by Covid has been feted as a fair old success, there was no escaping the unsettling effect triggered by the trip through the all-but deserted showground to the press room.

For rather than walking into the normal wall of humanity and having to perform the strange Brownian motion dance required to avoid bumping into those more accustomed to being surrounded by several hundred acres of their own space - while greeting the many faces that always seem to emerge from the crowd - the silent, solo journey through the windswept site was conducted in unnervingly record time.

And much though my family chide me for the lengths I often go to avoid crowds – and the unpublishable comments I make when I find myself caught up in one – I actually missed that traditionally fraught early morning foot journey through the showground.

However, despite the severely reduced stocking density in the press room required to comply with the Covid restrictions, the usual mix of annual reunion and jaded cynicism amongst the reporters and journalists, as the photographers indulged in their usual high school japes and banter, soon saw a cloak of familiarity drawn over the event.

The portentous feeling of that mornings entry to the showground still clung like an eerie presence throughout the day however - and the feeling of foreboding became ever more justified as rumours of the UK Government’s trade deal with Australia hardened as the day progressed.

And eventually we were left with little doubt that, at a cosy dinner in Number 10 Downing Street held on the previous night, the future of many of those proudly exhibiting their animals in the showrings outside had been signed away.

But, as one commentator pointed out, the path to the lingering death of the sector might already have been paved by the devolved government’s consideration of huge stock reductions to meet climate change targets.

The other doom-laden, day-of-the-dead entry into the showground was back in 2016, on the Friday immediately following the Brexit referendum.

The slow realisation that the country had voted to leave the EU was only beginning to sink in, and while the avenues and walkways were far from deserted, the usual bright, cheery faces, buoyed up in anticipation of a jolly day away from the farm were replaced by the cold, dead eyes and blank, unbelieving stares of those who had faced the zombie apocalypse.

And while we all know the white-knuckle horror story which Brexit turned out to be for individuals, the industry and the country as a whole. But however much we grew tired of writing about – and you grew tired of reading about it – the twists and turns of that narrative has kept agri-hacks busy across the intervening years.

In fact while much of the immediate work on that day revolved around getting reactions from the many trade and industry bodies who were in a similar state of shock to those wandering listlessly around the showground, I remember one of the younger journalists piping up around lunchtime:

“I’m bored with Brexit, can we do something different now?”

So, with repercussions of that vote still haunting the headlines of both the national press and the farming papers five years later, you’ve got to wonder just how long a run we’re going to get out of the block-busting trade deal and farm policy spin-off sequels…

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