As a farmer on a smallish family farm in Rutland I watch the unfolding effects of leaving the EU with ever-increasing fear and concern, writes Andrew Brown.
Farms of this size (mine is 620 acres or 252Ha) are the most vulnerable to the changes the government are inflicting on UK agriculture. The support payments which all farmers get - based on the area farmed - are to be reduced to zero over the next six years. This will leave a big black hole in many farmers' bank accounts and there is no way I can make up the loss through any farming activity.
The mantra which is rolled out is that ‘public money should be for public goods’. This is fine, but is not providing a safe, secure, affordable and plentiful food supply grown and raised to the highest welfare and environmental standards not a public good? Not according to this government.
I am being forced to enter one of the new environmental schemes which will see me take half of my farm out of production and be planted with wild bird seed mix and pollen and nectar rich plants. This may well enhance the wildlife on my farm but if that lost production has to be made up by importing food from another part of the world where they are knocking the rain forest down, you haven’t shot yourself in the foot you have shot yourself in the head!
Another major worry is the impending free trade deal with Australia. The welfare standards in countries like this are way below ours as their cost of production due to climate and economies of scale are considerably less than here in the UK. Remarkably it costs the same to get a tonne of wheat from my farm to Liverpool as is does to get it from Canada on a massive vessel (£9/tonne). My worry is that all the countries they have lined up to do free trade deals with are massive exporters of agricultural products which will undermine our fragile industry.
Even though they claim they will never let lower-standard food into the UK they already let in tens of thousands of tonnes of oil seed rape which is grown using neonicotinoid seed treatment which is banned here because it may harm bees. Don’t the bees in other countries matter?
So, when I see ministers saying they will uphold our high standards I just don’t believe them.
Many farmers are still thinking that because the prices of commodities are high, Brexit was the best thing that has ever happened to them. This is real short-termism and the prediction is that lamb prices may halve over the summer as over-supply and problems with exporting start to bite. Another issue is tariffs on exports to the EU on things like wheat. Currently this is set at 53 per cent so the value of my wheat if it is to be exported will halve.
This government has farmers in its sights just like the Thatcher regime had miners in theirs; we could see a big change in the face of the British countryside over the coming years.