This week, I’ve been very much enjoying Clarkson’s Farm, the new Amazon Prime TV series in which Top Gear/Grand Tour presenter Jeremy Clarkson charts his year learning about life on the land.

Clarkson has long owned a farm in Oxfordshire. But when the local farmer who looked after it for him retired in 2019, he decided to give running the farm himself a go.

I don’t know if this was a decision with a TV series in mind but either way, Clarkson plays his part well, learning on the job about the travails and hardships that farming brings.

Inevitably, there are plenty of boys’ toys as Clarkson buys himself a Lamborghini tractor and an array of machinery to plough his fields and scatter his seeds.

But at the same time, the show is subtly educational about what farming entails. Clarkson, too, seems a changed man by the end of it, more aware of the land and, whisper it, of nature too.

Certainly, he couldn’t escape the weather. Last year was a rotten one for British farmers twice over. Lockdown meant that their regular market of supplying the catering business collapsed.

And while those of us stuck at home might have enjoyed the sunny weather last April and May, the dry spring followed on from a soggy autumn to devastate the harvest.

According to government figures, there was a drop in the value of crop output of £1 billion: income from farming fell to £4.1 billion, the lowest in real terms since 2007.

In the final episode of the show (plot spoiler ahead), Clarkson learned that the profit he’d made from his arable lands was just £144.

I suspect Clarkson can take the hit (if you buy a Lamborghini tractor, you’re probably not short of a bob or two) but as his land agent pointed out, without the current subsidies system, it would have been a financial disaster.

Farming is in a difficult place at the moment, to put it mildly, and particularly so for small and medium holdings.

Figures released last month showed that the number of poultry and livestock farms across Europe fell by 3.4 million between 2005 and 2016.

In the UK, we lost 25 per cent of those farms over that period: since 1990, we’ve lost about a third of our farms.

The Common Agricultural Policy is partly responsible: encouraging an intensification of farming methods and larger farms.

How we support farming following Brexit remains a challenging question.

But at first glance, trade deals allowing large-scale Australian farms unfettered access in a few years doesn’t help.

Let’s hope that British farming doesn’t become the sacrificial lamb chop to open up markets elsewhere.

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