East farmers ponder ‘catastrophe’ of possible ‘no deal’ exit from EU

From left, David Barker with the NFU's new Suffolk county adviser Charles Hesketh and county branch

From left, David Barker with the NFU's new Suffolk county adviser Charles Hesketh and county branch chairman Glenn Buckingham Picture: BRIAN FINNERTY - Credit: Archant

A strong contingent of Essex and Suffolk farmers joined more than 1,000 delegates at the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) annual conference in Birmingham.

NFU president Minette Batters opened the event with a powerful speech, emphasising the catastrophe of a no deal Brexit. She said it was vital for the industry that the UK left the European Union (EU) with a constructive solution.

She highlighted the problems faced by farmers. These include stewardship payments being too long overdue often after considerable expenditure had taken place. A major concern post-Brexit will be the risk posed to British agriculture by the potential imports of food produced to lower standards. She emphasised the importance of the Red Tractor label as a means of supporting home produce.

MORE – Wealthy individuals and lifestyle buyers push down proportion of land being sold to farmersIn his speech, environment secretary of State Michael Gove paid tribute to Minette Batters as one of the most important leaders in UK industry.

He praised the positive amendments given by the NFU to the Agriculture Bill and stated that he would use all the tools at his disposal to safeguard the standards of food in the UK. He accepted the problems of stewardship payments not being made but said the Rural Payments Agency had performed well with regard to the Basic Payment Scheme.

The minister was challenged by Essex farmer Tom Bradshaw regarding export tariffs on UK grain in the event of a no deal Brexit. Conference was left with the impression that tariffs would protect beef and sheep farmers, but cereals would not be helped.

Looking at longer-term challenges, both the NFU and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) agreed to a policy of making farming carbon neutral by 2040.

Beyond the main conference, fringe meetings took place on many aspects of farming. The combinable crops seminar looked at ways that farming could be fully integrated with the environment. Concern was expressed that imported food could be sourced from countries using inputs banned in the UK.

Most Read

The discussion included asking what exactly are considered public goods. It was noted that a vast amount of land and habitat was being destroyed by major construction schemes such as HS2 and expanding Heathrow Airport. Environmental land management schemes are vital to offset this damage and land lost to new road and housing schemes.

The conference was held in the shadow of a no deal Brexit but it was interesting to speak to representatives of the Ulster Farmers Union, who were supportive of the Government’s position.

The complexity of the Northern Ireland boundary issue means some farmers have land on both sides of the divide. In addition, most of the pigs in southern Ireland are processed in the north while much of the milk produced in the north is treated in the south. All farmers present just hope that ultimately common sense prevails, while many felt it was the intransigence of the EU which was holding up a solution.

#Stowmarket farmer David Barker, of EJ Barker and Sons, Westhorpe, near Stowmarket, and branch chairman for Diss NFU, was among the delegates at this year’s National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham.