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Farming Matters: Phil Latham – ‘Brexit is already hurting my milk cheque’

Time is a funny thing. One minute you want it to speed up and in the next minute slow it down.

I know on February 1 my first reaction to the headlines about our withdrawal from the EU was that it ought to be April 1.

 

The fireworks celebrating our withdrawal from our rightful place in Europe are a bad joke and I wish it was not so.

 

Those celebrating are trying, in my opinion, to turn the clock back to a time where we had the might of our empire and a good chunk of the world map was pink under British rule.

 

That world has gone, we have moved on, globalism has taken hold and, whether it is the naked capitalism of the USA or communism with Chinese characteristics of the Far East, we will have to compete.

 

Except this time we have voluntarily added the might of the EU as an additional international competitor.

 

I am not sure what there is to celebrate. Destroying something is easy, creating something new is hard and we are just at the start of that journey. We are nowhere near getting Brexit done and so the waving of flags is premature.

 

As we deny ourselves the benefits of free and frictionless trade we have enjoyed with our largest single export market, there is tremendous uncertainty about the height of the tariff wall for our exports into the EU.

 

This uncertainty has already impacted my milk price negotiations with my buyer, as in the current climate no-one knows what the fair value of dairy products will be.


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Learning to exploit superficial analysis is something Brexiteers were experts at.

 

We must learn from Brexit that our message must appeal to our customers on an emotional basis and translate the enormous goodwill I think we have from our consumers into a demand for policies which ensure we are not undermined by cheap imports.

 

The same tactics are exploited by our badger-hugging friends. It is so much easier to convey ‘save the badger’ than explain why conserving a diseased population is a bad idea if you want to reduce TB.

 

Remainers were undone by poor tactics and we were outplayed by thinking the truth mattered.

 

Implications

 

There are implications for farming which are far-reaching. Changes in Government policy and competing priorities may pose an existential threat if the Department of Industry and Trade trumps Defra and seeks to trade off our industry to reap better rewards elsewhere in the economy.

 

I am deeply concerned it may be politically expedient to export our productive capacity with a cheap import policy. Government could trumpet reduced cow numbers as a triumph for our climate and the extensification of farming as a public good. We will have to explain simply why this is not so.

 

We must now work together, whatever our Brexit positions were, to make the case that farming and food matters.

 

At the excellent Cultivate conference in Cheshire recently, we were told to work out the ‘why’ for our businesses. We will have to re-analyse why consumers might want to buy our British products, as priorities differ depending on the market.

 

We think our customers prioritise welfare, but there are others which prize price and safety. Combining high welfare with all the assurances we like might make us less competitive in export markets as these drive prices up, so we will need to invest and innovate to succeed.

 

We must work together to reduce costs so we can export product at globally competitive prices. It will be quite a challenge.

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