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Farming & Rural Business Community

Book review “Hinton Ampner – Farming’s End”

Author: David Missen

Published: 09 Apr 2024

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Readers will recall that a couple of years ago we reviewed “Farming Hinton Ampner – the Brexit/Virus Year” by Charlie Flindt. For those unfamiliar with his work, Charlie was for many years a contributor to “Farmers Weekly” and his regular and outspoken “Flindt on Friday” column was often a subject of conversation for several weeks afterwards.

A third and final volume in the trilogy picks up the story in Michaelmas 2021 and details what happened on the farm over the next 12 months. Flindt sticks with the previous diary format, which makes it an easy book to read and genuinely difficult to put down. My copy was delivered on Saturday lunchtime, by the time he emailed me that evening to check safe arrival I was up to February, and I had read it cover to cover within a little over 24 hours.

The cast of characters, helpfully listed at the front of the book along with a farm map, remain the same, and we are taken through the farming year, with the weather, the agricultural operations and the personal aspects intermingled as they are for every other family farm in the country. To take a random day in February, we see a broken night’s sleep due to poachers, the completion of an article for Farmers Weekly, two tanks of liquid fertiliser application and then a rehearsal with “The Thomas Lord Old Gits” (for whom he plays keyboards – check them out on YouTube).

What makes this volume so very different is that after much heart-searching we see Charlie making the decision to surrender the bulk of his land back to the National Trust who want to use it for environmental purposes. This takes the whole story away from the purely personal and agricultural and into the political realms of “food production v wildlife haven” (coincidentally the subject of the ICAEW Farming & Rural Business Community conference this year). The day-to-day battles with recalcitrant machinery, awkward weather, rugby and cricket on wet days, and the family shoot are dwarfed by the enormity of “The Big Plan”.

When I reviewed the previous volume, I remarked that the insight which the book gives us into the daily lives of our farming clients should make it compulsory reading, both for principals and perhaps even more so for more junior staff involved in the preparation and review of farm accounts. Things which accountants think are important, such as tax planning, annual stocktaking and bookkeeping, actually come a long way down the list of farm priorities, compared to the weather forecast for the next 48 hours, the broken valve on the sprayer or the lateness of fertiliser deliveries. Whilst we are uniquely placed to advise on the taxation and financial issues, we need to bear in mind that these are only a small part of the big picture. This book helps provide that perspective.

In addition to that aspect, this volume also details at some length two new areas: Firstly, there is the absolutely fundamental importance of using land for the production of food, which is deeply embedded in the psyche of most farmers and which is now clashing head-on with a host of opposing interests. Secondly, as accountants, we should be advising on succession on a regular basis. We are uniquely placed to do so but this book gives us a powerful first-hand account of the personal, emotional and practical considerations which are, for many, far more important and which must underlie any succession plan.

As part of my semi-retirement I often give training courses and one of my recommendations is that, for an agricultural accountant, there are certain publications which should be regarded as essential reading. The Nix farm pocketbook should live on the desk (not in the bookcase gathering dust) and Farmers Weekly/Guardian should be on the table in reception. I would add to that, this latest Flindt volume, which is not only a thoroughly good read but also gives the sort of insight into what “makes a farmer tick” that might take many years in practice to learn.

I would like to wish Charlie a long and happy retirement (although, having spoken to him, I think we are both in agreement that “retirement” can be a rather flexible concept). 
If this review has whetted the appetite for the book, copies are available from the usual multinational online sources or, if you would rather that they had a little less profit and Charlie has a little more beer money, send him a cheque for £13.99 (payable to CH Flindt) to Manor Farm, Hinton Amper, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 0LE.

*The views expressed are the author's and not ICAEW's