Frustration among farmers as March 29 arrives – with no sign of solution to Brexit
PUBLISHED: 17:50 29 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:51 29 March 2019
Suffolk Remain and Leave farmers were united in frustration at the continuing political stalemate as they gathered in Ipswich to learn more about a sector shake-up planned for after Brexit.
Meeting on what would have been Brexit Day – Friday, March 29 – they were brought up to date on what is expected to happen in the post-Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) era – although much still remains unclear.
The event, hosted by the rural team at Savills Ipswich and local farming co-operative Fram Farmers at Trinity Park, heard from Emily Norton, head of Savills rural research.
MORE – Uncertainty dogs Suffolk farmers as Brexit deadlock continues
Speaking after the event, farmers expressed their frustration at the Brexit impasse.
Leave voter James Foskett, who grows carrots, potatoes, onions, and some combinable crops and sugar beet over about 900ha at James Foskett Farms, at Bromeswell, near Woodbridge, said it was difficult to know where the country would be.
“It’s disappointing because I fear right at the moment there’s a large possibility we might not get a Brexit, or if we get one, it might be so soft it’s not worth having,” he said.
“All UK industry wants to know what direction we are going in - which way it is we need to plan. We need to know where we are. When Westminster doesn’t have a clue where we are going, it’s not helpful to us at all as business people.”
Remain voter James Black, of Bacton Pigs, near Stowmarket, produces around 1200 outdoor pigs a week over 3,000 acres and admitted he was frustrated.
However, he was “rather pleased” Brexit hadn’t occurred on March 29 as planned as it was also his wedding anniversary.
He voted remain because the European Union is the UK’s largest market but did see problems with it, he said.
“At the end of the day, I’ll continue to be farming here in Mid Suffolk and my markets aren’t going to change overnight. They never were, even if we exited,” he added.
“We want to continue to be in business, and continue to produce food in a wholesome and healthy environment where we can make money.”
In her presentation to farmers, Emily Norton charted a course through the quagmire of post-CAP subsidy, and made it clear that future support will fall short of what farmers currently enjoy, cautioning them to get used to that, and plan it in.
Emily, who comes from a mixed dairy and arable farm in north Norfolk, said her job was to look forward and see what’s coming in order to try to made some sense of it.
A number of farmers’ hands went up at a straw poll of who felt they would be farming in five years’ time, suggesting the county is more optimistic than some of its counterparts.
She explained how Basic Payment Scheme payments would reduce, tapering off to zero by 2028, and leaving a gap before Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) take effect.
“We have little indication as to what the size of those payments is going to be,” she said. ELMS should not be approached as a replacement for BPS, which effectively acts as income support, she said.
“In the brave new world, you are not that badly off - you are sitting on an awful lot of wealth and although we may be cash poor, we are not in need of income support,” she said.
“Nowhere does it say: ‘this is about protecting the income of farmer.’”
Her projections showed farmers would need a 17% increase in crop price and yields to keep at the same level of profitability.
“Everybody needs to adjust,” she said. Farmers would need to understand where the returns will come from if they invest in farm buildings, precision technology, machinery, drainage or automation, she said, and long term security was needed for this to prevent investments going solely towards short-term fixes.
She explained the concept of ‘natural capital’ as a measure of how farmers were performing under the future support scheme might work, and how farmers could go in some different directions, such as helping improve people’s mental health through access to their farms via ‘social prescribing’.
Already, water companies had found that paying to help prevent nutrients getting into watercourses was cheaper than building new water treatment plants and were working with farmers to achieve this, she pointed out. “We can help prevent those problems,” she said.
Richard Anscombe, Fram Farmers chief executive, said her insights would help farmers to tease out real opportunities in areas where they would not intuitively look, and real, tangible and near term opportunities.