THIS IS the season when the temptation to look back to the sort of year it was for agriculture is hard to resist.

As far as the practical business of farming goes, 2018 will probably be seen as a good one. Prices for key commodities were helped by the Brexit-driven weakness of sterling; the weather was kind, once we got past the wet spring, although for some it brought fodder shortages.

The politics surrounding the industry and the issue of how we will leave the EU will however end up being the best remembered features of 2018. Regardless of how people voted back in 2016, the bottom line remains the same. As the year draws to a close we know less about the future for agriculture than this time last year. That is a terrible indictment of the government at Westminster. It has failed to forge alliances within the UK or in Brussels, and is a long way from discussing, let alone concluding, any trade deals with countries outside the EU.

If we were remaining in the EU we would now have a good knowledge of the support structures in the CAP after 2020. These will continue to be built around direct payments. In the UK we have only vague ideas how support might work after the transition period for departure from the EU ends in 2021. How long that transition will be is no longer even certain, and we could still, in theory, leave the EU next March with no deal in place.

These were all the issues being raised at the end of 2017, and as the end of 2018 looms it is a disgrace that agriculture still finds itself in a position where the only certainty is uncertainty.

Hopefully the break over Christmas will allow politicians to hear a message from their constituents that they are less interested in the politics of Brexit than the economics of the consequences. The only solution that can work is one based around compromise. Short of a hard, cliff edge Brexit, a third of Conservative MPs will never be satisfied. They accept that this would be a major risk for the economy, but deem this acceptable.

That is not the view of most farmers who voted for Brexit. They wanted a different approach, based around a more progressive farming industry. They never wanted an outcome that would deny them access to their key export market, while at the same time opening the UK up to cheap food imports.

We were having this same debate a year ago and we are no wiser or further forward. The only certainty now is that it will have to be resolved long before we get to the end of 2019. Unless the process it delayed we are leaving the EU on March 29, meaning January is the last opportunity to get the withdrawal legislation through the House of Commons.

That is a tight timetable, but if there had been a plan for an orderly exit from the EU once the vote was taken, there would have been no need for such brinkmanship. However, as the saying goes, we are where we are. In the season of goodwill the best we can do is enjoy a time-out and leave worrying about the future until after Westminster votes on the withdrawal bill in January – assuming it actually happens this time.

On a different note, one of the reasons many farmers voted to leave the EU was because of a lack of flexibility around regulation. This makes it ironic that France, as the main beneficiary of the CAP, is underlining its independence over agricultural policy. It has already said it plans to impose tighter regulations around agrochemicals, including a ban on many pesticides or the enforced payment of royalties to develop alternatives.

Now legislation has passed through the French parliament on food prices, again to meet an election commitment of its president, Emmanuel Macron. This will effectively impose minimum food prices and restrict two-for-one and similar cut price supermarket promotions. The aim is to improve the lot of farmers, but critics say many imported products and multinational brands will also be protected and gain from higher prices.

Regardless, this is legislation we would have been be told was impossible under EU rules. When it is in place it will be another barrier to trading with France if we are outside the EU-27 single market, even with the trade deal promised in the withdrawal bill.