Funny what makes you think


Cumbria is an interesting county. The photo I took on Wednesday, looking north. The small white blob is Orton church tower. It’s not necessarily what people normally associate with Cumbria, but it’s a very diverse county.

One thing we do have is lots of tourists and lots of sheep. To be fair there are large parts were you rarely see a tourist and even parts where the ratio of sheep to inhabitants drops down low enough to give humanity some hope of achieving parity.

But sheep aren’t far from our minds. I was feeding a small group of fat lambs (the last of the sheep, because sheep and dairy cows don’t mix well on a small farm) and I was genuinely surprised how well the grass was looking. The field had been eaten off by ewes earlier in the autumn and had been given a shot of slurry and left. Now there’s no sign at all of the muck but the grass has come on nicely. OK it’s not enough for cattle, but it’ll do a handful of fattening lambs really nicely.

Up until now Brexit has done Cumbria quite a few favours, the big drop in the value of the pound brought the tourists flooding in; and because we export so much lamb, the fact the pound fell meant those we exported and sold in euros brought in more money.

But I’ve always been nervous about sheep, after Brexit. The EU runs a tariff wall and the main thing is does is keep up the price of food. So if we drop out of the tariff wall, whilst the food we buy in the shops in the UK could actually become cheaper. On the other hand we could find the stuff we sell priced out of the EU market because of the tariffs.

Now for milk and beef that isn’t really a problem. We are net importers. We can go a long way on import substitution. So if our price drops, even a little, it’ll help UK product displace EU product. It’s the EU who has to worry on that one because they then have to find a home for more expensive dairy and beef products. Hence the reason why the Irish are worried.
Grain isn’t too much of an issue, it’s largely a commodity traded at world market price anyway.

But lamb does present a difficulty. We are one of the world’s major exporters of mutton and lamb. Actually there aren’t many major exporters. It’s a niche activity.

But the EU tariff wall could hit lamb production and I confess I was worried. A lot of the pundits seem to be worried and experts were pontificating unfavourably on the subject.

Then today I read the papers and on the front page it commented that Prince Charles was taking over the management of the Sandringham estate. He’s getting rid of the arable and moving the entire estate over to organic sheep production. The flock is increasing from 3,000 ewes to 15,000 ewes.

Now whatever you think about the Prince of Wales, when it comes to running farms and estates he has a good track record. Under his management he’s got a lot of them turned round and they’re making money. It’s not all expensive biscuits or novelty teas either. He’s got a good grasp of the basics.

Now it could well be that he’s got a damned good management team behind him. I hope he has, because every other farmer depends on the often unmentioned management team that supports him. But in this case, the management team, with the Prince as head or figurehead depending on your politics and outlook, have got a very good track record.

When asked why they were doing this, the answer was the Chinese market and Brexit.
Now the Chinese market makes sense. Australia and New Zealand are selling into it. Indeed we’re getting fewer exports from those two countries because China is such a good market. So obviously we want to be in there. But Brexit?
Now this goes right against the perceived wisdom. But the perceived wisdom is that of academics, pundits, politicians and commentators. The decision was taken by a proven management team putting their money behind the decision.

So who do we believe? Given the last few years why should you believe anybody?

boy who cried wolf



Me, I’d suggest we just let the dog sort them all out


As a reviewer commented, “Brilliantly written, honest, funny and if you’re from this little bit of land you’ll have been intrigued by the title – sold by the end of the very first line “There’s a lamb climbing out the oven””

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36 thoughts on “Funny what makes you think

  1. The Story Reading Ape January 13, 2019 at 3:50 pm Reply

    I thought the main worry about China is that it’s economy is slowing down, Jim.

    • jwebster2 January 13, 2019 at 4:24 pm Reply

      It is a worry, but “China’s gross domestic product increased 6.5% in the third quarter from a year earlier, compared to 6.6% in a Bloomberg survey and down from the 6.7% pace in the previous quarter.”
      The EU has dropped from 2.8 to 1.8 in the same period.
      Frankly I suspect that the Chinese figures may be a bit massaged 🙂
      But the advantage of selling food to a people rather than top of the range mobile phones is that they will continue to buy food even when they look round for a cheaper phone.
      It’s a complicated issue, apparently the Chinese are switching to beef and lamb for health reasons (or fashion which often amounts to the same thing 🙂 )

  2. Doug January 13, 2019 at 5:21 pm Reply

    There’s not a snowball’s chance British lamb producers are going to be able to compete with Australia/NZ in the Chinese market. Or anywhere else for that matter. Tyranny of distance and cost of production.The Middle East might be different, but they want live lamb exports, and that’s a filthy business.

    • jwebster2 January 13, 2019 at 5:37 pm Reply

      that’s a tricky one. We do have one advantage, standards.
      We sell milk powder into China because all the milk powder we sell is actually ‘medical grade’ rather than mere food grade.
      And selling lamb for large parts of the market we’re selling fashion, we’re not selling survival.
      Strangely enough, it might be easier to sell higher priced Sandringham organic than it could be to sell Australian conventional.
      It is not going to be easy. But frankly whether we stay in or leave the EU we have to diversify our markets because we cannot just rely on one market.
      And certainly we don’t want to get involved in the live trade into the middle east.
      But with sea transport, once it’s on the ship, an extra thousand miles is no big deal. After all the New Zealander’s made a feature of it. By chilling rather than freezing, the meat is effectively being ‘hung’ as it travels, which can improve it.

  3. Widdershins January 13, 2019 at 7:19 pm Reply

    ‘… and sometimes, I just sits’ 😀 … love that quote. There’s nothing like disruption to shake up the establishment’s long held ‘truths’ … so, short term – local markets, long term – go as broad as possible?

    • jwebster2 January 13, 2019 at 9:37 pm Reply

      If you poke too deeply into long held ‘truths’ you often just find vested interest. If you poke more deeply then you can find the truth behind it 🙂
      But Doug is right, we would struggle to compete head to head on a level playing field with a lot of places. So we’ve got to compete on terms where we have an edge. We have to be as broad as possible. Markets always grow and die, you’ve got to keep looking for new ones

    • jwebster2 January 13, 2019 at 9:38 pm Reply
  4. jenanita01 January 14, 2019 at 9:44 am Reply

    Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.

  5. jenanita01 January 14, 2019 at 9:45 am Reply

    Based purely on performance, I would say that politicians are the last people you could trust to run this country…

    • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 9:56 am Reply

      What really annoys me is that, given the things they say, either they are stupid, or think I am stupid and will just believe them 😦

      • jenanita01 January 14, 2019 at 10:30 am

        They’re the stupid ones, they prove it every time they open their mouths!

      • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 10:49 am


  6. M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 12:57 pm Reply

    I’d agree with you that it is British quality that we’re going to have to sell. I remember doing some work for a company that made tools, in this case, tools being the moulds that various bits of plastic tat are made in. They explained how they discovered that firms were struggling to liaise with Chinese factories in the design stages of making their tools/moulds and the quality of the moulds produced wasn’t as high. The people I was working for were pretty customer driven anyway, so it wasn’t difficult for them to carve out a niche as the go to quality development service. They would work with the companies to build the tools, run off some test products and then, when everything was running right, the tool would be shipped out to China and the goods put into major production. I get the impression that this is, basically, how Britain is going to have to do stuff after Brexit. I fervently hope we can.



    • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 5:52 pm Reply

      The good firms do that. I remember talking to an Australian who’d come across in the 1970s to buy stuff for his company and the attitude from the companies he was dealing with was that we were doing them a favour selling them stuff!
      Those companies didn’t last out the decade.
      Good companies will grow, bad ones will go to the wall and hopefully good new companies will step into the breach. It’s what’s always happened unless we do something like nationalise it or let civil servants set the parameters

      • M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 7:17 pm

        Agreed although, that said, a little of topic I know but I think if we could find a way to nationalise things – but in some kind of clandestine under-the-counter way that didn’t involve people just taking piss, and the government bleeding them dry, it would actually be the answer. They are never going to go after people like Google for tax. They always going to ride roughshod over people who lack the intelligence or education or time to fight for their rights. likewise it is always the people who have paid tax their whole lives to end up losing out, sorry if I sound bitter – my dad has run out of funds and we are just sorting out funding, if we can get any, for his care. all his life is paid his taxes and all his life there was a national health service but now he needs, it there isn’t. or at least there is for people displaying his behavioural difficulties unless they have some form of dementia in which case there isn’t. But because he lived his whole life with it there he hasn’t got health insurance. It literally just comes down to the name of the disease he’s suffering from. Sorry totally off topic rant there.

      • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 7:56 pm

        It is scandalous
        They have redefined a disease as not a disease so the NHS doesn’t have to pay to treat it
        Your father is ill, he has a disease. Why should he have to self fund?
        I’m sorry but it makes me angry 😦

      • M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 9:05 pm

        It makes me fucking incandescent! 😬🤬😠

      • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 9:16 pm

        too right

      • M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 9:19 pm

        Although the sum total of the little bits and bobs we get adds up and it may well get close. But there’s nothing simple and straightforward like a single source. Or even a single place to ask that will tell us what we are eligible for. I will try to have dad assessed anyway even though everyone says we haven’t a cat in heels chance of getting anything.

      • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 10:20 pm

        be very careful because local authorities have a bad record of taking cash they’re not entitled to
        Some have been taken to court and forced to hand it back
        The problem is that the organisations you’re asking for advice are often the ones who’ll end up having to fork out money if they give you the right advice!


      • M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 11:06 pm

        Yeh I can imagine.

  7. M T McGuire January 14, 2019 at 7:18 pm Reply

    Let’s just say I’m not big on politicians right now and leave it at that.

    • jwebster2 January 14, 2019 at 7:57 pm Reply

      You know the phrase “I wouldn’t spit on him if he were on fire”?
      I think it sums them up 🙂

  8. Doug January 15, 2019 at 12:08 am Reply

    In Scotland, the NHS system would mean your dad wouldn’t have to self fund, because our politicians in Holyrood have decided to prioritise different things. It’s a shame you don’t have a government that has a similar ethos.

  9. John Sones January 19, 2019 at 5:18 pm Reply

    I wish you would publish your books like ‘Fancy meeting you here’ in paperback as I do not use a Kindle.

    • jwebster2 January 19, 2019 at 7:12 pm Reply

      The problem is simply cost. It would cost a couple of hundred pounds to put it out as print on demand so you could just buy it, and whilst I do have a few paperbacks (fantasy) I doubt I’ll ever get the money back.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 19, 2019 at 11:41 pm

        Sounds like a perfect time to investigate having Amazon produce the paperback FOR you, from the ebook. I don’t think there’s a cost associated. They want more ebooks also printed.

      • jwebster2 January 20, 2019 at 7:15 am

        I’ll have to check that out 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt January 20, 2019 at 10:46 pm

        Let me know. You know, the typical writer/idea person split: I gave you the idea, now you do the work, and will split the proceeds 50/50.

      • jwebster2 January 21, 2019 at 7:08 am


  10. patriciaruthsusan January 22, 2019 at 12:15 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    Jim’s thoughts on markets and such. Also, another amusing book for offer featuring his sheepdog. There’s also a good review of it.

    • jwebster2 January 22, 2019 at 12:51 pm Reply

      glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  11. patriciaruthsusan January 22, 2019 at 3:02 pm Reply


  12. Cynthia Reyes January 27, 2019 at 5:06 pm Reply

    Jim, it’s really interesting to learn how Brexit could affect your livelihood and that of others, and how the tariff wall could force you to seek greener fields (so to speak). It’s important to understand how different sectors are affected. My older relatives are having a tough time because most live on a pension, and many purchases are more expensive now, with the pound having fallen in value.

    • jwebster2 January 27, 2019 at 7:14 pm Reply

      I know Canadians over here who have realised it might be too late to ever move back home because of the currency, but personally I suspect they’re young enough to see things swing again 🙂
      But yes, those paid in sterling who live outside the UK will be hit, as will those companies outside the UK who depend on exporting to the UK because their products will look more expensive
      It is complicated, but frankly it’s not something we need fear. I’ve spent my life in agriculture, we regularly get worse 🙂

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