The UK’s recent vote to leave the European Union has led to splits in the farming community over whether Brexit is harmful or beneficial for British farming. Much of the debate is focused around the impact of a Brexit vote on the level of subsidies farmers receive from the EU, and whether a post-Brexit UK government would offer the same level of support. Rural communities nationwide overwhelmingly backed the vote for Brexit, as did rural and farming communities in the South West.
South West farmer, Paul George, who has 270 Holstein Friesian cattle on his farm at Tresillian Cornwall, and who supplies milk to Arla, believes Brexit will prove beneficial for the country and for the farming industry. Mr George describes the historic Brexit vote on 23rd June as “a win for UK agriculture.” He believes that if a future UK government supports British farming, the industry would “really thrive.” He said, “I believe the British public want to support British food, if we can have a government that really wants to back British food, and really back the tremendous products that we produce in this country, it can only be a good thing.”
One of the major issues now facing the farming sector is whether tariff-free access to the EU’s Single Market can be maintained. The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) said that Brexit would “bring challenges, but also opportunities.” Following the leave vote, CLA President Ross Murray called upon the government to ensure that payments to farmers would continue, “unbroken and unchanged” until at least 2020.
Former President of the National Farming Union (NFU), Peter Kendall, said the result of the referendum was “hugely disappointing.” His sentiments were echoed by the former NFU Chief Economist, Sean Rickard, who said “if there’s one group that has really gained from Europe its farmers. I don’t think much will change over the next two years, but there will be a great deal of change after that, negotiating the terms of leaving the EU. You might be looking at ten years of uncertainty for UK agriculture and its food producers. The big danger is that some food producers will relocate their activities to Ireland or Denmark to stay in the single market. Uncertainty is the enemy of all investment, all of this might make us less competitive.”
Speculation has already begun regarding what effect Brexit will have on food prices. As the pound has dropped against other currencies, it is predicted that this will mean that food imports from the EU are now more expensive, which will push up the price of food. The President of the NFU, Meurig Rayond, said the referendum result is a “political car crash” and that farmers who receive up to £3bn per year from the EU are in “uncharted waters.” He said, “sadly, we only produce 60 per cent of the food we consume, so we are very dependent on imported food. So a weaker pound will mean higher imported food prices.”
Brexiteers however say that once the UK is able to trade freely with the rest of the world, food prices will be significantly lower. This would be because the UK will be able to buy from developing countries, and countries which benefit from large economies of scale in farming, who can produce food at a lower unit cost than the EU countries.