SO, MOTHER Nature has done it again – July and August were awful months, and just when we thought it was a repeat of the summer of 1985, she delivers a cracking September.

Fields dried up, extending the grazing season into October, although how much feed value is in the grass is debatable. Lambs that had stopped finishing on wet fields, eating wet grass, with a dose and a shift onto drier aftermath, have been really motoring. August reseeds have thickened out and will be fit to graze shortly.

Like many, our lives are on hold as the Covid pandemic continues. To be honest, though, we are fortunate in agriculture that our lives may have been interrupted, but our businesses have suffered only minimal inconvenience, rather than any significant financial impact.

This is in contrast to many other businesses who, through no fault of their own, happen to operate (more accurately, used to operate) in sectors which the various UK administrations have decided to shut, or curtail. This has been done in a confusing, illogical way that is now totally unintelligible.

The latest lockdown measures in North-east of England, where folk can’t even visit each other’s houses, are unenforceable. Reports of police breaking up gatherings in houses all over the country doesn’t sit well with me either – I know rules are rules, but we live in a democracy and basic freedoms are a key part of that, even in a pandemic.

It reminded me of the last outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2007 (man-made, with the virus having been released from a lab via effluent discharge pipes), where the financial impact of the control measures, the ‘cure’, was much worse than the financial impact of the disease, which only affected a handful of farms.

The economic and health impacts of the current policies are now far worse that the disease itself. But politicians have got themselves into an absolute guddle by being determined to eradicate Covid-19, which will now not be possible, if indeed it ever was. It certainly won’t be possible without the co-operation of all of the general public.

Where that may have happened in the early days of lockdown one, it won’t happen now as people are fed up and desperate. The more heavy-handed the response and confusing rules become, the more the ‘peasants are revolting’. However unpalatable, at some point there needs be an admission that the only way forward is to allow population, or ‘herd’ immunity to develop in tandem with a vaccine.

So, we must be getting to the point where the only choice left is to protect those who are the most vulnerable and let everyone else get on with it – including students and Fresher’s Week! I’m not an epidemiologist, but I bet you fewer people will die that way than the carnage that is currently being created with cancelled treatment for other illnesses, unemployment, bankruptcies and all the stress-related health issues it is causing.

All the more reason for folk involved in agriculture, living in the main a ‘normal’ life in the countryside, to be grateful for what we have and optimistic about the future. Back in my student days, we used to listen to Ian Dury and the Blockheads – any oldies out there remember them?

He had a hit with a song called ‘Reasons to be cheerful’. He had three, so here are my three reasons why the livestock sector should be cheerful.

First, prices are excellent and demand for beef, lamb and pork is as good as it’s ever been, thanks partly to Covid-19 and there is no reason that can’t continue. In the sheep sector, breeding stock, particularly ewes, gimmers and ewe lambs of all breeds are through the roof.

As an aside, anyone thinking of leaving the industry with a sheep flock and/or suckler herd to value should seriously think about getting on with it. When will you ever have had a valuation on your stock like today, based on the market value of breeding stock – answer, ‘never’! And if your stock is valued on the herd basis (which it should be if your accountant is worth their salt), it’s a no-brainer!

Secondly, the global pandemic sweeping through pig herds, African swine fever, is now spreading through wild boar in Germany. They have had 36 cases in the eastern state of Brandenburg in three weeks – it is only a matter of time before it gets into commercial herds. The disease is untreatable and fatal and despite the virus having been around for over 100 years, there is still no vaccine – I rest my Covid-19 vaccine case m’Lud!

No one really knows how many pigs have died, or culled (mainly in China and Asia), but it is likely in excess of a staggering 300m. Why is this a reason to be cheerful? Well, if its spread continues (which it will), demand for red meat from unaffected countries like the UK will continue to grow. This may be selfish, but true.

Even nervous pig farmers in the UK, who have had a great couple of years, can be optimistic. Although cast sow prices have fallen, this is a relatively small percentage of their income and is more than made up for by the highest finished prices ever and feed prices which are more than manageable. Plus, with air travel from eastern Europe and further afield drastically reduced as a result of Covid-19, the risk of importing the virus in infected meat, where it can live for up to a year, is also reduced.

Finally, the third reason to be cheerful is Brexit. Thankfully, we are coming to an end (whatever that end might be) of the soap opera which this sorry saga has been. Certainty is what we need.

One thing which is a relief is with the Brexit date being December 31, January is traditionally a quiet month for exporting beef and lamb to the EU anyway. So, there is a window of a few weeks where export certification, health certificates etc, can be sorted out, impacting only relatively light volumes.

It is encouraging to see a real push by Defra to inform exporters of animals and products of animal origin to the EU what the rules will be. They are running webinars through October and early November for every possible type of trade in animal products, so that they have time to get sorted out. One excellent meat industry trade body, AIMS, has also arranged a ‘Trade Readiness’ webinar specifically for its members in mid-October.

So, there should be no reason, whatever the situation with tariffs, that producer prices go off a cliff edge as some predict. Of course, that is not to say a few of the normal suspects won’t use whatever we are faced with to try and force down prices – but, hey, what’s new, we’ve come to expect that. Remember spring when prices fell off a cliff and rebounded in a fortnight, so it does happen.

For those who are still fretting about a cliff-edge Brexit and tariffs, just remember the EU sent £372bn of goods to the UK in 2019, while the UK exported £300bn – so they need us as much, if not more than we need them. It was no coincidence that Michael Gove last week conceded there could be queues of up to 7000 lorries waiting to cross to France at Dover in a worst-case scenario.

I didn’t realise, but he clearly does, that 150,000 Irish lorries transit through the UK to Europe every year, representing 40% of its exports and 13% of imports. So, I’m pretty sure the hard line approach being taken by the UK Government in these negotiations for a trade deal is based on the need the EU, and particularly Ireland, has to access the UK and not just as a market for goods and services.

So, reasons to be cheerful are definitely three!