CLA’s new president a remainer, but believes Brexit presents opportunities
- Credit: Gregg Brown
The new man at the helm of powerful landowners’ lobby organisation, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), is an Essex and Cambridgeshire farmer and was a remainer when it came to last year’s bombshell European Union referendum.
Nothing that’s happened since last June has changed new CLA president Tim Breitmeyer’s mind in terms of which which way he would vote if the opportunity emerged again. However, he doesn’t believe it will, and he does think that Brexit offers up opportunities for the UK - although the process of leaving will be fraught with challenges.
Now the UK must fashion its future and take up the opportunities which Brexit presents, he believes.
“I voted to remain. We as the CLA were very clear that we should allow our members to take the decisions for themselves. We outlined the pros and cons and indeed there were pros and cons,” he says.
“I was personally quite surprised that the rural community of East Anglia, including many of its farmers, voted quite so strongly for a leave vote.”
Although there was never a clear-cut method for finding out exactly how farmers voted, some polls indicated a 60-40 split in favour of leaving, which Tim believes is in the right ballpark.
There were a number of issues at the time that farmers were infuriated by, including the ongoing debate within the European Union about the use of weedkiller glyphosate, he points out, as well as other regulatory constraints.
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He also sympathises with farmers wanting to be “left to do the job” who were faced with a system of European subsidy which is “fraught with complexity”.
He feels farmers who voted to leave “voted with their hearts”, but there were now serious issues around trade, labour and regulatory convergence as a result of Brexit. The CLA’s “number one priority” would be to press for a free trade deal with Europe as part of the Brexit negotiations, he says.
“Don’t get me wrong, Brexit has opportunities, but in the short to medium term it’s fraught with difficulty, as indeed we are now seeing,” he says.
“15/16 months on down the line we are really no wiser as to exactly where we are going to go with the trade deal.”
Farmers are also none the wiser on whether access to labour would be secured, he says. Nonetheless, it is necessary to embrace change, he believes.
“I think Brexit does have some opportunites and we are where we are now.”
The CLA is pressing for a transitional policy on agricultural trade and labour to enable farmers to adjust and which would give them “some amount of support” in the medium term, while recognising the format for subsidy may change. “It will take the industry time to adjust to a global perspective,” he says.
Meantime, farm businesses will need to make changes to their structure and mindset to enable them to thrive in the new post-Brexit environment.
“I think over time people will be able to make this transition. I think there are some who will find it difficult,” he says. “I have no illusion that there would be a huge percentage that would not enjoy life without the current regime we have.”
Even the top 25% of businesses, once subsidy is stripped out, will not find they are making a huge amount of money from farming on its own, he predicts. Realistically, as a cereals farmer, this is his own position, he adds.
“There are many, many businesses if they honestly stripped out the diversification they have made in their businesses who find that pure farming is not making a massive contribution to the bottom line.”
Greater food self-sufficiency and the role farmers can play also in the renewable energy sector are just some of the opportunities which Tim hopes will be grasped. It will also be a case of producing more, but more sustainably.
“I think there will be some who decide they don’t necessarily want to carry on in the climate post-Brexit and they may well be people who don’t have natural succession to their businesses and they may equally feel they want to diversify their businesses really, really away from farming and they may rent out their land,” he says.
“There are all sorts of models and I think everyone will have the opportunity to succeed.”
Tim Breitmeyer, who succeeded Monmouthshire landowner Ross Murray as 53rd president of the CLA in November 2017 following the end of his two-year term of office, farms 1,600 acres at the Bartlow Estate on the Cambridgeshire-Essex border.
Two thirds of his farm lies on the Essex side of the border, although his postal address is in Cambridgeshire.