THIS, of all years, has been one for forward planning at Highwood Farm.

Perched on the outer rim of Hexham, the sounds of the A69 whistling by, it covers a thousand acres of rented land – and therein lay David Carr’s priority. Succession planning!

His father, also called David, took out the original tenancy 50 years ago now, but current generation David has been running the farm for the past few years.

“We’re in one of the old-fashioned tenancy agreements they don’t have any more,” he said. “Mainly because they can’t get rid of you.”

He has two sons himself now – David (10) and Robson (one) and that had spurred him into action.

It took six or seven years to work through the slow, plodding bureaucracy to transfer the tenancy over from his father, but now it’s done, he has peace of mind. “It means the farm is there, come the time, if one of my boys wants it.”

He’s lucky. One farmer he knows never managed to get the succession sorted before his father died.

Highwood has 650 breeding ewes, of which 400 or so are Mule and Texel, and another 150 are Blackfaces, used for breeding their own replacement Mules. There are also 80 Cheviot ewes and 200 hoggs.

“We’ve lambed 850 sheep this time round,” he said. “We’ll have 150 Mule and Texel hoggs, which we’ll sell with lambs at foot next month at Hexham Mart.”

They also have 140 head of cattle, bought in suckler calves they are bringing on before selling them as strong forward stores, and two haulage trucks used mostly for livestock and hay.

The next thing to be sorted is getting back into a Stewardship scheme. “The last one we had was for 10 years and it lapsed without me realising it,” he said candidly. “Now lambing is over, I’ll find the time to re-apply.”

He’s fairly philosophical about it in that Highwood Farm has plenty of hedging and traditional stone walls. There’s a lot of pasture too, which is helpful when so much emphasis is put on grassland nowadays.

“We’re probably already working ‘in the system’, so hopefully nothing much will have to change,” he said.

And as for dovetailing with post-Brexit agricultural policy, he felt it was farmers down south, with land that supported little more than arable crops, that had more cause for concern than the North’s hill farmers.

The latter were already fulfilling much of the ‘public money for public goods’ criteria.

But the prospect of exorbitant tariffs on lamb exports to Europe post-Brexit was worrying. However, he said: “That isn’t a one-way street, is it? If they charge us high tariffs, then we put it on Danish bacon, German cars, French wine.”

The one area that he really felt farmers had no control over was the unfair pricing policy employed by most supermarkets.

They were dependent on whatever prices supermarkets chose to set for their meat, their milk and their wheat.

“We are the producers, but we have no way of setting prices for our produce,” he said. “We’re are at the bottom of the pile and we’re given what we’re given!”

No pricing practice was more irksome, though, than the one applied to consigned lamb.

David said: “You can sell your lambs live-weight through the auction marts and get what you are given there, or you can sell them dead-weight straight to an abattoir, which is what the supermarkets want.

“But if a lamb doesn’t meet a certain specification – if they want a 22 kilo carcass and your’s is 23 – you don’t get anything for the extra kilo.

“But they don’t cut that kilo off and throw it away, do they? They will still sell it. It’s daylight theft!”

This was a volatile industry and you never knew what was round the next corner, but farmers just had to keep doing what they were doing, while keeping costs under control.