PREDICTING WHAT 2022 will bring makes the proverbial task of nailing jellies to a wall look easy. If the last year has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected.

Who would have thought at the start of 2021 that a prime minister celebrating what he claimed was a good trade accord with the EU, would now have his future in doubt. Could anyone have predicted the eye-watering rise in the price of fertiliser and other inputs, or that farm profits would still be under pressure, despite global food prices reaching their highest levels for many years.

This cost squeeze certainly confirmed farming is about what is left and not the price paid.

Hopefully there will be more cause for optimism in the New Year and some green shoots are there. The big unknown is Covid, but the virus may now be doing what every virus does, be that in people or livestock. That is becoming easier to spread but less harmful, given that it is not in in any virus's interest to kill its host. If this is confirmed in the months ahead, hospitality will recover across Europe, easing the pressure that hurt agriculture in past lockdowns, when the loss of the food service sector proved disastrous. Proving this will take time and with people still reluctant to travel abroad, tourism-based farm diversification businesses in Scotland look set for another good year.

On the political front, Boris Johnson really is drinking in the last chance saloon with his party. If Omicron proved less of a threat, his decision not to lockdown England as heavily as the other regions of the UK might be the thing that saves him from the 'men is suits' telling him it is time to go. If that happens it may well be on the basis that he returns to more traditional Conservative values. That would include demands to back-pedal on his green rhetoric. However to believe that would bring a return to Conservative thinking towards farming and rural areas would be hope over expectation.

This week the new CAP officially starts in the EU, with direct payments still part of the mix. There will be a one year transition period, but farmers in Europe now know the support structures that will be in place until at least 2027. It is one of the ironies of Brexit that it has divided rather than united UK agriculture. Scotland and Northern Ireland are going down roads that still see support rooted in traditional agriculture with a green tint applied. The English are going hard-line green so support structures there will be radically different. That will end an approach that goes back to the 1850s and what was known as the period of high farming. This is when the UK began, with common purpose, to create a farming industry that became global.

Now the different parts of the UK will have different systems and different research priorities. That has long term implications and it is an ironic result of a Brexit policy that was supposed to create structures better suited to a UK farming model than the EU could deliver.

We are now one year on from when the UK officially severed all ties with the EU. The trade deal of Christmas Eve 2020, delivered by the now departed Lord Frost, has proved a one-sided affair. EU food exports to the UK are the same as they were, while UK exports have dropped dramatically with no real prospect of recovery.

By having a sour relationship with the EU and pursuing global free trade policies, such as its deal with Australia, the UK government is making a difficult situation worse. Its mindset is not to solve the problems, but to use them to claim Brexit was the right decision.

That is not going to change, but 2022 may be the time for farmers to play the government at its own game. It wants to be seen as a global driver of green policies. Farmers need to find ways to make the point that those begin with short food supply chains leading to locally produced food from farms with high animal welfare and environmental standards. They do not flow from dodgy trade deals that export food production. This seems like a mountain to climb, but an unpopular government with a cynical political approach to green policies is fertile ground for such a campaign. And ultimately farming is about making the best of fertile ground.