UK organic farmers face dramatic falls in crop value in event of ‘no-deal’, Suffolk organic farmer warns

John Pawsey, Shimpling Park Farm Picture: WARREN PAGE/PAGEPIX

John Pawsey, Shimpling Park Farm Picture: WARREN PAGE/PAGEPIX - Credit: Archant

A ‘no-deal’ Brexit will cause a huge headache for UK organic growers as their crop values plummet, an organic farmers’ leader based at Bury St Edmunds has warned.

Organic farmer John Pawsey of Shimpling Hall Farm Picture: GREGG BROWN

Organic farmer John Pawsey of Shimpling Hall Farm Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

John Pawsey, an arable and sheep farmer based at Shimpling Park Farm, who is also chairman of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) organic forum, said a no-deal would mean producers here needing the European Union (EU) to formally recognise UK organic production standards and accept these as equivalent to EU standards.

It means UK organic farmers face the prospect of a trade embargo being placed on their products destined for the EU, he said.

The NFU says it is vital a deal is agreed to ensure an orderly Brexit to avoid immediate serious problems for British farmers and growers and food production.

Mr Pawsey warned that without recognition for UK organic standards, organic products destined for the EU market would have to be sold as conventional crops and would therefore lose the premiums they need in order to cover the higher costs of production.

“Unless we get a deal we are going to be in a very difficult situation as far as organic standards being recognised by the EU.

The stakes are high as the designation makes a big difference price, he explained, so a barley grower with organic barley might command a £375/t price tag, compared to around £170 for non-organic.

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“It’s going to be a huge knock for people expecting to export that product,” he said.

“The NFU is going to be looking to the government to compensate farmers who have been put in this position because we can’t get a deal.”

About 9% of what UK organic farmers produce is exported, equating to around £188m in 2016, he said. “It’s going to have a significant effect on organic businesses,” he said.

As a sheep farmer too he was worried about the potential ‘no deal’ hit to UK sheep producers, who would potentially face a huge tariff and could lose around £350m. “We don’t want the government to open up the floodgates on cheap imports, but we are going to be suffering under a huge tariff as far as the exports to France are concerned,” he said.

The NFU is writing to environment secretary Michael Gove to highlight the issue as “another example of where leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic for UK agriculture”.

“There is currently no mechanism in place to facilitate the equivalent process within the European Commission and estimated time scales of achieving this recognition could be as long as nine months,” explained Mr Pawsey.

“It appears to have been left to certification bodies to work out how this can be achieved. Exports are an important part of the supply chain for British organic farmers and growers and we fear the consequences of excess product being trapped in the UK and the impacts that would have.

“The UK government has already taken a step towards trying to ensure continuity of trade for organic products through the introduction of a statutory instrument which stipulates the UK will continue to recognise EU control bodies for a designated time period of 21 months. I would like to see this transition period reciprocated for UK organic products entering the EU market in a no-deal scenario.

“We continue to urge government and MPs not to leave the EU on these terms. If no deal is reached, the NFU would like to see the process of gaining recognition expedited as quickly as possible.”

Globally, organic dairy is one of the largest sectors in the organic food and drink sector. UK organic dairy exports are estimated to account for 20% of total sales versus 9% for total organic food and drink, said the NFU.

If the 50 million litres of organic milk - currently exported in the form of cheese and added value dairy to the US and EU - is absorbed back into the UK market, organic dairy returns could be affected to the tune of £5m, cutting every organic producer’s returns by £15,000.