BRITISH farmers would produce more food themselves in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal, a cabinet minister has suggested.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was responding to industry claims that food prices could rise sharply in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
He said this would hurt farmers on the continent as the UK was a key market.
UK WILL ‘GROW MORE’
However, if this happened, he said the UK would respond by ’growing more here and buying more from around the world’.
It comes amid fresh warnings from supermarket bosses that the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 without at least the outline of a future trade partnership would be bad for British consumers.
Sainsbury’s chairman David Tyler told the Sunday Times that a no-deal Brexit could result in an average 22% tariff on all EU food bought by British retailers.
The British Retail Consortium has said this could translate into a minimum 9% rise in the cost of tomatoes, 5% for cheddar and 5% for beef, while warning the figures could actually be much higher.
Agricultural products are one of the UK’s most important exports while the UK sources roughly 70% of the food it imports from the EU, leading to claims that items could ’rot’ at the border if there are hard customs checks or supply chains are disrupted after Brexit.
BRITAIN THE BIGGEST CONSUMER
Given the UK’s importance to farmers across Europe, Mr Grayling said it was not in their interests to see an outcome which resulted in higher costs and new obstacles to trade.
“You may remember the brouhaha over the Walloon farmers when they objected to the Canadian trade deal. I had a look to see who their biggest customer was – it was us,” he told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC One.
“We are the biggest customers of the Walloonian farmers – they will be damaged if we don’t have a deal.”
But if the UK ended up without a deal, which would see it default to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, Mr Grayling suggested domestic producers and retailers would respond by rethinking their sourcing.
“What it would mean would be that supermarkets bought more from home, that British farmers grew more and that they bought more from around the world,” he added.
“What we will do is grow more here and buy more from around the world but that will mean bad news for continental farmers and that is why it will not happen – it is in their interests to reach a deal.”
TARIFF-FREE TRADE VITAL
The British Retail Consortium said maintaining tariff-free trade with the EU during a post-Brexit transitional period was vital to preventing the UK facing potential tariffs straightaway of up to 40% on some beef and dairy products under WTO rules.
The trade body, which recently published research on the subject, acknowledges forecasting the consequent impact on food costs is complex and a range of other factors would have to be taken into account.
But it said there was a risk that domestic producers could put up their own prices to increase their competitiveness and if this happened, the cost of items like tomatoes could rise by up to 18%, broccoli by up to 10% and cheddar by a maximum of 32%.
A spokeswoman said that while retailers could review their buying policies in the medium to long term to adjust, it was “very unrealistic to expect farmers to make up the surplus of produce straight away”.
‘NO NEED TO WORRY’
But writing in the Sun on Sunday newspaper, the former minister and prominent leave campaigner John Redwood said that although consumers may see their shopping basket change if there is no trade deal, ’there is no need to worry, our farmers will boost their output’.
“They don’t understand the cards in our hands as the EU’s main customer,” he wrote. “The government will be able to give us all a tax cut out of the tariff revenue it collects, so we need not be worse off.”
However, those more closely connected with farming have responded with incredulity to the blasé reassurances of Mr Redwood and the claims made by Chris Grayling.
GRAYLING TALKING ‘TRIPE’
Apple growers have already complained about a shortage of labour for this year’s apple harvest, with British jobseekers unprepared to face the rigours of doing jobs usually performed by migrant labour who have turned their back on the UK post-Brexit.
Lawrence Olins, the chair of British Summer Fruits, whose members provide 97% of all home-grown berries and soft fruit to the UK market, pointed out that UK growers had been unable to source labour this year while still a member of the EU. The prospects for finding sufficient labour after Brexit were even worse, he said.
Mr Olins said: “I have farmers who are moving to Portugal because they know they are able to hire people from the subcontinent. They know this. To hear Grayling come out with this tripe beggars belief.”
‘OUT OF TOUCH WITH FARMING’
While acknowledging that Brexit could create opportunities for UK farmers in some sectors in the medium to long term, Minette Batters deputy president of the NFU responded to Mr Grayling, saying: “I would say he’s out of touch with farming. Of course we want to produce more, but have the rest of the cabinet got the same view? I support what he is saying, but it’s quite hard to know how this translates. I’d like to know what Philip Hammond thinks, what Michael Gove thinks of this.”
Ms Batters continued: “This is not about ploughing the verges to grow more food, it’s about the absence of any food policy.
“We haven’t had a food policy for 43 years,” she said, pointing out that national food and environmental policy has been led by the EU since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973.
And, lest those cheerleading Brexit reach for the green ink and the word ‘traitor’, as they tend to when words they want to hear are subject to scrutiny, the NFU’s Director of EU Exit and International Trade Nick von Westenholz said: “UK farmers know that there will be opportunities arising from leaving the EU, including increasing the amount of home-grown food consumed by the British public. However, given the extent of our trade in food with the EU, failure to secure a comprehensive trade deal would cause considerable disruption to farming in the UK. Although there is some scope for import substitution, farming operates on long timescales. For example, the first crop to be produced post-Brexit will be in the ground in less than a year.
“Furthermore, due to the amount of food we import that isn’t grown here, as well as issues such as managing carcass balance, simply upping production to quickly offset any reduction in food imports isn’t feasible.
“In the long term Brexit will offer new opportunities that farmers will be eager to take, but in the meantime the UK must maintain clear and free trade flows with the EU where the vast majority of our food exports are headed. Over the next few weeks, the NFU are embarking on a series of Brexit Roadshows across the country in which we will discuss the sorts of challenges and opportunities facing UK farmers in the near future.”
SHEEP FARMERS COULD BE WIPED OUT
FUW President Glyn Roberts, whose members number many of those small hill and family farms that would be most affected by no deal and a switch to World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs criticised Chris Grayling’s comments, providing a stark warning that sheep farmers were at risk of being wiped out unless commitments were given to match subsidies already received via CAP.
The FUW said that the transport secretary seemed to have ignored research commissioned by the government that showed the ’cataclysmic’ impact a hard Brexit would have on British farming.
Glyn Roberts, the FUW’s president, said: “Mr Grayling seems unaware of the results of the economic modelling commissioned by his colleagues in Defra, which paint a far more complex picture for the UK’s many agricultural sectors, and suggest in some ‘harder’ Brexit scenarios UK food production would collapse.”
Mr Roberts pointed out that the economic modelling of Defra and detailed data published by the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board released on October 10, ’predict pretty cataclysmic collapses in many or most agricultural sectors in the event of harder Brexit ”no-deal” type scenarios’.
The FIPRA report, which The Herald covered in August, revealed that Welsh sheep farmers would most likely be devastated by a hard exit from the single market, with tariffs for Welsh lamb – the overwhelming majority of which is exported to continental Europe – going from zero to 32% overnight, even on WTO most-favoured nation status.
FARMS’ BOTTOM LINES CUT
The AHDB report, to which Mr Roberts referred, suggested that average farm profitability could drop from £38,000 to £15,000 a year in the worst case scenario as a result of policy and performance challenges that come from Brexit, modelling work has revealed.
AHDB’s latest Horizon report, Brexit scenarios: an impact assessment, for the first time quantifies the potential impact of Brexit on UK farming businesses.
It maps out a range of possible post-Brexit situations and models their effect on Farm Business Income (FBI) across agriculture and horticulture’s levy-paying sectors.
The analysis projects the effect of different trading arrangements, farm support measures and labour availability.
They range from a ‘business as usual’ approach with current levels of support; a liberal approach to trade with tariff-free access to the UK and reduced support; to a cliff-edge Brexit, reverting to WTO regulations and with dramatically reduced support payments.
The model allows AHDB to re-run the scenarios in future as more detail of policy decisions in those key areas emerge, to form a more accurate picture for the industry. AHDB will also later publish specific results for Scotland using Farm Business Survey data.
Under the three scenarios outlined in the report, changes in the UK’s trade relationships will impact farmers’ bottom line when the UK leaves the Single Market, whether or not a Free Trade Agreement is negotiated with the EU.
Policy decisions also leave sectors where direct support has been a key part of farm revenues such as beef, lamb and cereals, particularly vulnerable.
Mr Bicknell added: “Buzzwords like competitiveness, resilience, productivity are not new to agriculture but Brexit brings renewed focus on farm performance. Do nothing and businesses that are currently profitable run the risk of heading into the red. There is plenty that individual businesses can do now to get fit for the future.”
‘NO DEAL’ FAVOURS BIG BUSINESS
One of the key challenges facing government will be protecting farmers from a hard landing, no matter what Brexit strategy is followed and whether or not a trade deal can be done.
Even the best trade deal will not be on the same terms as the current single market access, as EU governments have made clear, that means there will have to be a substantial structural adjustments to both the support given to farmers by the devolved governments and English parliament and steps to preserve small farms – which are a significant economic driver of rural economies.
The AHDB document highlights the risks faced if Britain leaves the EU without easy, tariff-free access to the single market, with Less Favoured Area livestock farm incomes particularly hard hit, falling to negative figures in the worst case scenario. Lowland livestock farms fare little better, with incomes falling to less than £4,000 in two of the three scenarios looked at, and across all UK farm types, incomes more than halve under an ‘extreme’ Brexit scenario.
But while results differ on a sector-by-sector basis, the top 25 per cent of businesses, regardless of sector, remained profitable under every scenario. In short, a hard Brexit favours large farmers – such as the grain barons of east England – and larger ‘industrial’ dairy and livestock farmers.
Glyn Roberts said: “The EU and UK sent a letter last week to WTO members outlining an agreed position on how quotas should be split when the UK leaves the EU, but the USA and other WTO members, including Canada, Argentina, Brazil and New Zealand, had already written to the EU and UK WTO ambassadors stating their objections to the proposals.
“The letter, signed by seven of the WTO’s 164 members, states ‘Such an outcome would not be consistent with the principle of leaving other [WTO] members no worse off, nor fully honour the existing TRQ access commitments. Thus, we cannot accept such an agreement’.
“This underlines the fact that the current EU negotiations are just the start of a complex process that would normally take decades.”
Conservation groups don’t like ‘unpalatable truth’
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has warned that conservation bodies have their heads in the sand over the devastating impact badgers have had on hedgehog numbers, and are doing conservation a great disservice by scapegoating farmers.
The State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report released on February 7 by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species estimates that hedgehog numbers have halved since the beginning of the century, and places the lion’s share of the blame on intensive farming.
However, world leading hedgehog expert Dr Pat Morris, author of The New Hedgehog Book, wrote in his 2006 book “The implications [of high badger population densities] for hedgehog survival are serious…ignoring the issue or pretending that badgers exist only by harmless drinking of rainwater doesn’t help at all.”
A survey of badger numbers between November 2011 and March 2013 found that badger numbers in England and Wales have increased by between 70% and 105% in the past 25 years.
“Dr Morris is named in the State of British Hedgehogs 2018 report as the instigator of the first survey of hedgehogs based on animals killed on roads, but no mention is made of his concerns regarding high badger numbers having such a devastating impact on hedgehogs.
The issue is dismissed and swept under the carpet, despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the impact of badger predation, while farmers are effectively singled out as being to blame,” said FUW President Glyn Roberts.
A 2014 peer reviewed study of hedgehog numbers in ten 100km2 areas where badgers were culled in England found that “…counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling, whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling.”
Mr Roberts said: “Of course there are areas where intensive farming has had a detrimental impact on hedgehog numbers, but it is simply wrong to paint the whole of the UK as being like that – the fall in hedgehog numbers has in fact coincided with farmers planting more hedges.”
Mr Roberts added that this view was backed up by the RSPB, who said that losses of managed hedges appear to have halted in the mid-1990s, while the net length of hedges in the UK was stable or increasing.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the People’s Trust for Endangered Species report said it was planning to engage with the farming community to ‘stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs’.
The likelihood is that there is a range of events causing impacts on the hedgehog population. Certain types of pesticides affect the hedgehog’s food chain, while larger and more open fields with less substantial hedgerows might also contribute to hedgehog predation and decline. The increased use of road vehicles is a certain factor, as is urban and suburban spread. Unusually, domestic pets are not a major hazard for hedgehog populations.
In rural Wales, however, the dramatic explosion in badger populations cannot be ignored as a significant factor in driving the decline of hedgehog numbers.
In the early-2000s, an investigation was carried out by the Small Mammal Specialist Group into patterns in hedgehog and badger populations across hundreds of square kilometres of rural southwest England and the midlands. One important finding was that hedgehogs appeared to be absent from large swathes of pastoral grasslands where they are thought to have once been commonplace. The group surveyed hedgehogs in a number of areas which were geographically and ecologically similar, but with different levels of badger culling.
Hedgehog numbers in suburban areas doubled during the five years of badger culling, and remained static in areas without culling. This demonstrated for the first time that badger predation is a strong limiting factor for hedgehog populations in these particular habitats.
Until the mid to late 20th century, heavy persecution of badgers kept them at low numbers. The Badgers Act of 1973 introduced protections, enhanced by the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act. Consequently surveys published in January 2014 revealed that in the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the number of badger social groups in England has doubled to around 71,600.
In pasture-dominated and mixed agricultural landscapes, and in some suburban habitats, badgers thrive with have plentiful denning opportunities and abundant food resources. The largest increases in the density of badger social groups have occurred in the landscapes that dominate southern, western and eastern England. These are also the areas where hedgehog declines are likely to be most severe.
While nobody is suggesting that badgers be culled to improve biodiversity and give hedgehogs a chance of re-establishing themselves, the refusal to acknowledge evidence which they find inconvenient suggests that the weight that can be given to the Hedgehog Survey is questionable.
Glyn Roberts suggested that those ignoring the evidence were simply unprepared to face the truth about natural predation: “By sweeping under the carpet the unpalatable truth that badgers eat hedgehogs, and that the doubling in badger numbers has had a catastrophic impact on hedgehog numbers, and scapegoating farmers by highlighting outdated ideas about hedge removal, conservation bodies are doing a huge disservice to hedgehogs and conservation.
“In fact, they are doing exactly what Dr Pat Morris warned of in his Hedgehog Book – burying their heads in the sand by pretending increased badger numbers are not a major threat to hedgehog survival.”
Charities benefit from breakfast fundraising
THE EQUIVALENT of a year’s farm income (£13,000) has been raised by the Farmers’ Union of Wales, for its charitable causes – Alzheimer’s Society Cymru and The Farming Community Network.
Speaking about the success of the FUW’s farmhouse breakfast week at the end of January, Union President Glyn Roberts said: “Our staff, members and wonderful volunteers have done an incredible job in raising what is the equivalent of a year’s farm income for many farms in Wales for our chosen charities.
“Farming communities are close-knit communities and this shows what can be achieved when we all come together, with a common goal. Through these events, where we all sat around the kitchen table to talk and share our thoughts about #FarmingMatters, we’ve strengthened ongoing and permanent relationships and established new ones.
“The money we have raised in our rural communities will go towards helping others in our communities – we must never forget that our communities are the engine room of people powered change and also that this strength of community has the power to hold governments to account.”
FMD plans tested
GOVERNMENT departments around the UK are set to carry out simulation exercises to test contingency plans for dealing with any future outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Exercise Blackthorn involved the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Scottish Government, Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland are set to test their current state of readiness over the next few months.
The EU Directive 2003/85/EC requires Member States to exercise their contingency plans either:
- twice within a five year period; or
- during “the five year period after the outbreak of a major epizootic disease has been effectively controlled and eradicated.”
The first simulation exercise took place on Thursday, February 8, with a further table-top exercise on March 8 followed by a real-time exercise on April 25 and 26 April.
Exercise Blackthorn will end on June 7 with a final table-top exercise. UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said regular testing of contingency plans was an important part of making sure the authorities can respond to outbreaks.
“Exercises like this provide an opportunity for teams across government and industry to engage and to learn lessons in a controlled and safe environment,” he said.
“The risk of foot-and-mouth disease arriving in the UK is low but ever present. Government monitors disease outbreaks and incidence around the world assessing risk for the UK and taking action to mitigate risk where possible.”
After being free of FMD since 1968, Great Britain suffered a return of the disease in 2001. The entire outbreak lasted for 221 days and had a devastating impact on the farming industry, rural community and the wider economy across the UK. The UK was officially declared disease free on 22 January 2002.
An exercise evaluation report will be published in the autumn.
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