‘Wisdom and diplomacy’ needed to ensure a profitable future for Suffolk’s farmers outside of the EU

Robert Sheasby, East Anglia regional director at the Natinoal Farmers' Union.

Robert Sheasby, East Anglia regional director at the Natinoal Farmers' Union. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The Government must ensure that British agriculture is not disadvantaged following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the National Farmers’ Union’s leader in East Anglia said today.

Regional director Robert Sheasby said the NFU’s principles for Britain’s exit negotiations would include achieving the best possible access to Europe’s markets, which would remain “extremely important” to Britain’s farmers, and to get access to markets in the rest of the world, while ensuring protection from imports produced to lower standards.

The Government should also ensure that UK farmers and growers could get the necessary supplies of labour, both seasonal and full-time, and build a British agriculture policy was which as simple as possible and offered parity of treatment with farmers in the EU.

Mr Sheasby said: “Farming is hugely important to the economy in the East of England and it’s vital that it remains profitable and competitive.

“Understandably, today’s decision will lead to a period of uncertainty in a number of areas that are of vital importance to our members, including the future of trade deals, support for agriculture, access to labour and environmental regulation.

“The NFU will engage fully and constructively with politicians in the region, and the British government nationally, as new arrangements are constructed.

“We’ve called an extraordinary meeting of our regional board in Newmarket on Monday evening to gauge their views, ahead of a special meeting of NFU Council, the NFU’s governing body, in London next Friday 1 July.

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“We understand that the negotiations will take some time to deliver but it is imperative that there is early commitment to ensure British farming is not disadvantaged.”

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “Having put to bed the arguments about whether we want to remain in or leave the European Union, we now need high levels of both wisdom and diplomacy to negotiate our way through the uncharted waters of abandoning our current arrangements with the EU and building a new framework for policy development in those areas of previous EU competency.

“Unfortunately, both of these attributes of wisdom and diplomacy have been less than obvious in the referendum debate from both sides and so we have a lot of learning to do.”

He added: “The debate leading up to yesterday’s referendum has been passionate but divisive and we now need to work on building a new consensus about how we build a post-EU Britain. As with the rest of the nation, the farming community has had split views on whether it was right to remain a member or leave the European Union but we must all now deal with the reality of the situation within which we find ourselves and press on to ensure a smooth exit and building a secure future for the UK outside of the EU.”

Michael Fiddes, head of estate and farm agency at Strutt & Parker, called on the UK government to reveal its intentions to farmers as quickly as it could.

“What markets hate more than anything is uncertainty and a vote to leave will inevitably create a great deal of uncertainty about the future of our agricultural policy as we move outside of the CAP,” he said.

“This is likely to have a negative effect on the UK land market at a time when prices are already under pressure because of falls in farming profitability. Farmers remain the largest buyer of farmland in the UK, so any changes in income as a result of changes to the subsidy system will have an impact.

“It is essential that the UK government makes very clear, at an early stage, what their replacement farm policy will look like in order to enable farmers to plan with certainty. Until we have greater clarity, buyers could be reluctant to invest which will put downward pressure on the land market.

“What is now crucial is for the government to recognise the importance of food security to the country and establish a structure which creates a long term, viable UK agricultural industry which sits at the very heart of our economic policy.”

Simon Gooderham, director at East Anglian surveyors Cheffins, said that while it was hard to predict the long-term effcts of Brexit on agriculture, there were suggestions there would be an impact on the market for both farmland sales and lettings due to uncertainly over the future of farm subsidies.

“Across the UK, the total support from CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) in 2014 was just under £3bn, equivalent to 54% of farming, so we need to consider whether a UK government, independent from the EU, will ever be able to support farming to the same extent,” he said.

“On the flip side, some of us will be bolstered by the UK now having the option to control its own subsidies and to increase the dynamism of British farming, representing itself at the World Trade Organisation and reigniting world trade without the constraints of the EU.

“Prices will now depend on access to EU markets and trade agreements elsewhere and export costs could increase. Now is the time to have an entrepreneurial approach to farming. The old system will be changing and we will be recommending our clients push into this new era of farming with diversification and finding new ways to supplement their incomes.”

David Caffall, chief executive of the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), said: “As of today AIC – like the rest of the country – has no clear idea of how events will unfold.

“We will be seeking clarification on what this decision means in terms of market options; regulations and the timetable for the changes that will inevitably occur.”

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