Metric loss

Opinion: Counting the cost of Brexit – imperial or metric

I have never been a fan of Brexit and nothing has happened since the UK left the EU to make me change my mind.

So when Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced a decision to bring back Imperial units, I moaned he was there again, cynically playing on voters’ fears of Britain’s ‘lost sovereignty’.

Why is it necessary to “bring back” imperial units of measurement to the farms when we have never stopped using the ones we liked in the beginning?

When, for example, did you last hear a farmer bragging about harvesting yields in tons per hectare rather than per acre?

It is a matter of longstanding professional pride that British farmers have never abandoned a preference for gross exaggeration in Imperial.

See also: Brexit camps remain divided 6 years after referendum

About the Author

stephen carr

Farmers Weekly Opinion Editor

Stephen Carr runs an 800ha sheep, arable and beef farm in the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife Fizz. A portion is converted to organic status and subject to a higher level stewardship agreement.

Also, when did you ever read in the The Farmers’ Weekly Lands and Farms section An advertisement or an editorial that begins with the description of a farm in hectares?

Farms seem bigger in acres (2,471 times bigger, to be precise) and cheaper to buy (£10,000/acre instead of £24,710/ha).

The UK joined the European Economic Community (now the EU) in 1973, when I was halfway through my studies.

So I was part of that generation whose math class was always staunchly pissed off as we started learning addition, subtraction and multiplication in imperial pounds (worth one hundred and forty-four cents) and ended in metric pounds (worth only one hundred pence).

At the time, when I was 14, the main implication of “metrication” for me was significant candy price inflation.

Penny chews remained the same size, but I now have forty-four less for a pound of my pocket money.

When I started working on the farm during school holidays in the late 1970s, I remember finding my father perfectly comfortable with the shift from tons to tons.

He quickly took a liking to the “tonne” when he discovered that it weighed 16.047 kg less than a ton. So, without having to grow better crops, her harvest yields improved effortlessly.

When you farm marginal arable land like he did, and I still do, every little blindness helps keep morale up.

If we have to go back to quintals from 50 kg bags, too bad: there are 20 of each in tons and tons respectively.

Likewise, going back to gallons from liters wouldn’t cause me too much distress: 5 liters is close enough to a gallon that I can do multiplication/division in my head, even when working under time pressure, filling my sprayer tank in unstable weather.

But let’s not go any further in this article lest we fall into the trap that Mr. Johnson has set for us.

By starting a silly discussion about the relative advantages of metric and imperial measurements, the Prime Minister hopes to distract us from the serious problems caused by Brexit.

For farmers, these include the European trade implications of the unilateral breaking of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the loss of farm subsidies and the gradual exposure of UK agriculture to free trade in foodstuffs.

All of these significant consequences of Brexit are likely to prove costly for farmers, however you measure them.