“Brexit is Brexit” so the days of Common Agriculture Policy in the UK are numbered. Long-standing Club member Professor Howard Williams and Farmers Club Journal Editor Charles Abel consider the implications and introduce the Farmers Club Brexit Toolkit to help members.
So, what can we distil from all the ‘noise’ of Brexit to inform our thinking about the key influences on farming post-2019.
Clearly, UK agricultural policy is to be redrafted to reflect the opportunities and threats of leaving the European Union. New trade agreements are to be negotiated. How we farm will be impacted. But just how to make operational and investment decisions amidst such uncertainties and higher risks is far less clear.
In November 2016 George Eustice, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food addressed the Club and highlighted the basis for a new agriculture policy – good practical insights, rigorous analysis and input from farmers. His stated aim is a policy that frees farmers from the inhibiting effects of the CAP and to establish a policy that is the envy of the world rather than merely to seek a ‘level playing field’.
So, what do we ‘know’ about this new world? We ‘know’ the system of Single Farm Payments and related CAP subsidies will go, and payments to farmers will not be based on subsidies and inducements; other payment mechanisms are likely to be used.
We also know a significant hole will remain in government finances, so any reforms are likely to cost less than the current CAP regime, which in 2015 was close to £6bn including single farm payments and rural development project funds.
We also know there is a need to better integrate production, environmental protection, food security and retail distribution to provide incentives for farmers to innovate and share risk across the whole supply chain. Similarly, national solutions to environmental issues are felt to be flawed, so there will be a greater focus on specific localities for bringing together different policy areas, e.g. river basins could be the geographical basis of a policy mix designed to optimise outcomes for soil, farming, water, flood protection and environmental enhancement.
We know of some grey areas too. The Minister and Prime Minister have stressed the importance of Brexit and a subsequent transition period. But how long will transition last? We know Government wants to introduce policy measures that ameliorate risk, thereby freeing farmers to make decisions that optimise the outcomes on their farms – but how?
Potential models, such as those in Canada and Australia, have limitations and may not be easily applied here. The UK depends on a diverse, professional and skilled labour force, at times a transient and seasonal labour force, yet there is widespread support for tighter immigration controls – how will this circle be squared? We have exacting and globally recognised standards, ranging from pesticides to animal welfare; these need to be protected, but not to our detriment – so how will we ensure these standards enhance our competitiveness?
Negotiating new trade deals will, as is customary, be a fraught and prolonged process. The specific question of the ‘Irish border’ will be a key issue; Ireland accounts for close to 30% of our agriculture trade, it is our biggest trading partner. So, how will this ‘border’ operate?
Will agricultural trade be treated as a whole, or will certain commodities be singled out; whisky and salmon account for more than 25% of total UK agricultural and food exports to Europe.
Finally, what of our “unknown unknowns”? Two areas stand out. First, where will agriculture fit in the broader negotiating position of the UK government? In essence, what concessions will be sought for agriculture against gains/losses in other sectors? Second, how will the remaining EU members react? Will EU members retaliate with subtle or not so subtle non-tariff barriers?
Brexit opens a significant opportunity for Club members to voice their opinion on the future of agriculture in the UK.
During 2017 the Club’s increasingly popular Monday Evening Lectures will provide more excellent opportunities for members to secure privileged Brexit insights, and provide direct feedback to those involved in the framing of farming’s new policies. Details can be found on our Events page
The Club will also make available good Brexit commentary and well-informed opinion, using the Club Journal, website and social media postings, to help members anticipate and react to Brexit opportunities, and identify and adjust to Brexit threats.
The Club will be an ideal place, as ever, for formal and less formal meetings with those who will shape future agricultural policy. But what is clear is that the Club will not make representations on its own behalf. Its interest is to foster better understanding – for members and policy-makers alike.