A bird in the hand

David Walston in the United Kingdom thinks he’s rich in lots of ways, mostly because he’s been lucky, but wasn’t last year when it came to selling his wheat.

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David Walston in the United Kingdom thinks he’s rich in lots of ways, mostly because he’s been lucky, but wasn’t last year when it came to selling his wheat.

Are we rich? That’s what my just-turned-10 daughter asked me back in the middle of August. Given that we were sitting in a holiday home on a private island off the east coast of the United States, it seemed like a fairly ludicrous question from an adult’s perspective. Thinking about it more, how should she know? Yes, we live in a big house, but it’s not fancy. We don’t eat off gold plates, drip with jewellery, or drive posh cars. Of course, the answer had to be ‘yes’, but this did seem like a moment ripe for further discussion: did Elyse know why people are rich – us or anyone else?

Obviously, it’s not because we are clever. Yes, some rich people are very smart, but I went to school with thousands of very rich people, and I can guarantee that plenty of them were very stupid. Maybe then it’s because we work hard. That must be why nursing is such a highly paid job, and why those people who have to work two or three full-time jobs to make ends meet are well on their way to being millionaires.

The truth is, all these reasons we give ourselves as to why we are rich (we work hard and have huge brains), and why others are poor (they are stupid and lazy) are nothing more than self-gratifying hubris. The real reason we are rich is simple – we are lucky. Either we were born lucky, or were lucky later in life, or maybe both. People who forget this are well on the way to becoming, well, generally unpleasant. It’s something I’d prefer my kids to learn now, rather than later or never.

However, hardly anyone keeps on rolling a six every time. Sometimes your luck is better than others and 2022 proved this more than most years. I sold plenty of wheat 12 months ago, for what seemed like a pretty good price at the time, £188/t (NZ$ 359/t). Spring came about, and Putin did his thing. Very soon, I was happy to be selling wheat at $478/t. Amazing! The price kept on going up, £280, £300, £340 – this was crazy. I pondered on Twitter whether my $359/t wheat would be half price by harvest – plenty of people told me I had been an idiot to sell forward, because, well, you know, it was obvious prices could only go up. Perhaps stung by this failure, I kept on waiting for the price to go up some more; $764/t had a nice ring to it. The opposite happened. Down, down, down, and the chance was missed. I remember one phone call from a merchant, “I can still get £300 if you’re interested?”. No, I was going to wait for it to go back up. It never has.

Climate change, and “the new normal” for weather is of equal concern. The immediate effect this year is the lack of oil seed rape for harvest 2023, meaning we have winter barley back in the rotation, along with a return for sugar beet after several years absence, and possibly even some spring linseed.

We recently heard from ex-minister George ‘Useless’ Eustice that the UK’s free trade deal with Australia, signed in 2021, was “not actually a very good deal for the UK”.

I think this falls very firmly into the ‘no shit, Sherlock’ category, as it was very obvious to anyone with half a brain, and perhaps this explains why no cabinet minister was able to spot the problem. Our government’s plan to abolish Basic Payment Scheme subsidies is now roughly halfway through implementation, with 2027 as the final stop date. The scheme for partially replacing this with payments for environmental goods, known as ELMS, seems sound in theory, but at this point seems to be in total chaos. Rumours are flying that it may be shelved entirely, and if the state of environmental schemes is anything to go by, far from paying farmers to improve the environment, it will actually cost us money to implement.

So aside from war, climate change, and a government that seems actively intent on screwing over farming, the future looks bright.

Having said that, 2021/22 will probably end up being quite a profitable year, so we went into Christmas happy in the short term, but unsure of the medium term. No change there then!