Harvest success could be betrayed by 'disastrous' no-deal Brexit tariffs, say farmers
PUBLISHED: 11:55 11 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:55 11 October 2019
Farmers have gathered a huge harvest of wheat and barley this season - but they feel betrayed by "disastrous" no-deal Brexit trade tariff proposals which could damage their ability to export the surplus.
Defra's provisional harvest figures for 2019 show UK wheat production has increased by 20.1pc to 16.3m tonnes, at an above-average yield of 9.0 tonnes per hectare. Meanwhile total barley production has leapt by 25.6pc to 8.2m tonnes, fuelled by a yield increase of 22.7pc to 7.0 tonne per hectare.
But although growers in East Anglia's arable heartlands welcomed the high yields, the glut of grain has driven down prices and generated a surplus that could be subject to new export tariffs if Britain leaves the EU with no deal on October 31.
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the proposed trading regime outlined by ministers this week has "betrayed" UK growers, with significant tariffs applied to exports to the EU, while many foods travelling the other way - including wheat, potatoes and eggs - will be charged nothing.
This removal of tariff protection risks undermining the UK farming industry by flooding the market with cheap imports produced to lower standards, says the union.
East Anglian grower Tom Bradshaw, who farms near Colchester and is chairman of the NFU combinable crops board, said: "The EU has always been the largest home for our exportable surplus of wheat. But this year we will have about a 2m tonne exportable surplus of wheat, and if we have a no-deal it will have a minimum tariff of 12 euros per tonne.
"The really amazing thing about cereals is that every consumer in the country is buying wheat every day of the year, whether it is in cakes or bread and flour. It is something that is a staple in every household. I just cannot understand why we are going to allow wheat in tariff-free while it costs us an extra 12 euros to export to Europe.
"We all hope that a trade deal will be done in the long-term, but the way the discussions are breaking down and fracturing the relationships does not give me great confidence that we will get the trade deal we were promised. We need to have tariff-free access to this market, but we also need to have a willing partner."
OILSEED RAPE CONCERNS
Mr Bradshaw also urged the government to ensure that any new domestic agricultural policy seeks solutions to make growing oilseed rape viable for the future, after the figures showed a 13pc decrease in the oilseed rape harvest, caused by a 9.2pc fall in the planted area and a 4.2pc drop in yield.
Following the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, he said there was now no access to effective plant protection products leading to increased pressure from pests such as the cabbage stem flea beetle, prompting many farmers to reduce the area of oilseed rape they are growing.
"Despite a challenging growing season, the UK arable sector has shown strong physical resilience," said Mr Bradshaw. "However, the glaring result from this survey is the significant drops in oilseed rape yield, which can almost certainly be attributed to the loss of effective plant protection products to control pest pressure.
"I have heard from countless farmers that they are questioning whether it is worth growing the crop as a result. It just demonstrates how crucial it is to have an agricultural policy that gives farmers confidence to grow these crops, not the opposite.
"We need to see the government commit to a trade policy that does not serve to undermine our own growers and to a new domestic agricultural policy that helps farmers better manage the risk involved with growing crops; from pest pressure to increasingly volatile weather."
BARLEY PRICES UNDER PRESSURE
Meanwhile, a leading maltster warned Norfolk growers that a "phenomenal" malting barley crop has put prices under acute pressure.
Bob King, commercial director of the Crisp Malting Group, told Holt Farmers' Club members that the near-record barley crop of 8.2m tonnes - the highest for almost 15 years - will pose a major challenge to the supply trade.
Although much of the tonnage could be absorbed by the animal feed industry, it left a potential exportable surprise of more than 3m tonnes, he said. And President Trump's decision to impose 25pc tariffs on whisky exports to the USA had added to the pressure on distillers - a major buyer of premium malting barley.
Mr King said that the Great Ryburgh-based group - one of the world's top dozen of maltsters - was determined to continue investing in its business.
However, the uncertainty over Brexit had almost brought the barley trade to a standstill. Usually about 300,000 tonnes of malting barley was exported to Europe each year from the late autumn but to date about 200,000 tonnes had been shipped ahead of the October 31 deadline.
PIG SECTOR'S TRADE FEARS
The pig industry is another key East Anglian farming sector which has reacted furiously to the government's "catastrophic" no-deal Brexit tariff proposals.
National Pig Association (NPA) chairman Richard Lister said the decision could force UK pig farmers out of business and open the UK's gates to a flood of imports produced to health and welfare standards outlawed in the UK.
Under the proposed no-deal regime, import tariffs on pork would typically equate to around 3-5pc - compared to the tariffs of up to 45pc the UK currently has in place as a member of the EU.
Mr Lister said these tariffs protect UK consumers and producers from cheaper, lower standard imports from elsewhere in the world, while allowing British exporters to send £300m of pork products tariff-free into the EU every year - a market which could be jeopardised under a no-deal scenario which would see significant tariffs applied to goods moving fro the UK to the EU.
"The situation, as it stands, could be an absolute perfect storm for the UK pig sector," said Mr Lister. "The consequences could be catastrophic.
"My message to the government is clear: Do not sacrifice the UK pig sector in pursuit of cheap food and future trade deals."
A government spokesperson said: "Our temporary tariff regime will help to support British jobs and avoid consumer price increases should we leave the EU without an agreement.
"This is a temporary measure and we will be monitoring the economy closely, as well as continuing to listen to feedback provided through gov.uk. The government will also continue to meet regularly with representatives from the food and farming sector to hear their concerns."