Brexit impacts on farming

Posted by on Jul 6, 2016 in Diversification | Comments Off on Brexit impacts on farming

Well, we have only gone and done it!

Whilst the polls were always close ‘those in the know’ were sure that the bookies had it right and we were going to stay in the EU. Wrong again, and now we have a mad scrabbling for position which just delays the difficult decisions a little further.

Agriculture was the biggest recipient of EU funds and has the most to lose in a tussle with the NHS. The CLA and NFU have produced papers outlining priorities for a UK Agricultural Policy (UKAP). The core point is that agriculture has to remain a profitable business if the countryside is to retain its appearance and environmental improvements continue.

Whilst we do not cover trade specifically in this article I am sure that we all agree that continued access to all export markets is a priority.


The notion that food prices should fall is a worrying one. A reduction in food standard regulation and an opening up to world markets would spell the end of much of UK agriculture. Whilst many brexiteers would probably describe themselves as fans of the free market you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for.

Over the last decade a huge effort has gone into encouraging consumers to seek out, and pay for, goods that are produced to higher standards. This work must not be lost in a ‘race to the bottom’ on price and quality.


DEFRA have already suggested that EU environmental legislation will remain in force for the time being. Reviews are more likely to concentrate on removing irrelevant clauses than watering down of regulation. We would hope and expect that science will dictate new policies but it is perhaps too much to hope that GM crops will be permitted.

Licensing of agrochemicals is a lengthy and costly process and we would caution against unnecessary duplication of work done in the EU. A licence to sell in the EU should warrant a licence in the UK. Other products that offer particular benefits to UK agriculture (e.g. glyphosate and neonicitinoids) could be licensed locally. A dual licensing regime will be a brake on product development and the UK in isolation may be considered too small a market to licence some products.

Current CAP policy on greening can be amended to suit UK conditions which should mean the end of the three crop rule. Ecological Focus Areas will probably survive in one form or another. We wait to see whether this will be compulsory or voluntary. If the latter, then there may be a new role for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment.


On the basis that the EU will continue to be a major trading partner for the food and farming sector we can safely assume that existing legislation, including environmental directives, will remain in place. The UK can then insist on equivalent standards for any imports from other countries. The cost of this legislation must be recognized, however, and as inflated food prices will be politically unacceptable the most efficient subsidy is paid at the point of production, ensuring continuity of supply.

We will have to have a discussion about how the support is paid but a flat rate payment with no strings attached (as proposed by UKIP) must be highly unlikely. Instead we expect to see a combination of broader environmental measures (welcome back ELS perhaps?), social payment to keep people in very rural areas and insurance type schemes to protect against price and weather volatility, to provide justification to the tax paying public.


Around 35,000 people from outside the UK are employed in the farming sector. Access to this labour is essential. Brexit brings the opportunity to widen the pool from which labour can be drawn. It will be up to the government to produce a simple and robust system to attract and track the workers that we need.

The introduction of the National Living Wage will place a base in the cost of labour, not supply and demand factors (which are more likely to push costs up than keep them down).


A resilient rural sector will have a range of income sources. This could come from novel crops or new uses for land and buildings.

The government has relaxed planning regulation in many areas but more needs to be done in very rural areas that have other layers of protection such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Banks are likely to tighten lending terms and so grants or government backed loans for diversification projects could be a useful, and potentially self-financing, use for funds.

Investment in connectivity is a theme that will carry on post Brexit. The universal service obligation for broadband is welcome and the investment cannot come soon enough. A similar obligation is required for mobile phone coverage, particularly if mobile operators are to be permitted to drastically reduce mast site rents.



UK agriculture will have to fight to ensure that it has proportionate regulation and appropriate support in the years to come. Sustainable production and stable food prices for a growing population will be a government priority and this will be best served by a robust farming sector.