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Opinion- Justin Fox, historian and environmentalist

Can MPs save us worst-case Brexit? 

Following last June’s Brexit referendum, it was estimated 58 per cent of farmers voted to leave. How good a decision this was is yet to be determined, though it is fairly obvious most of the rhetoric on the state of our agriculture is pure hyperbole.

 

While I do not doubt Government will strive to secure as good a deal for UK farmers as it can get, I expect political expediency will rear its head.

 

As contributors of £6b a year into the Common Agricultural Policy but recipients of just £3 billion, on the surface this is an obvious area of net save.

 

Perhaps this redistributed money can go towards subsiding farmers, but what will other industries say? Farmers will not be the only ones affected by the introduction of EU tariffs on British goods, but not all of them will land such a windfall in compensation.

 

Therefore, how sustainable is this £3b subsidy once rumours start flying the opposition would be more equal in handing out its aid?

 

This is not to say, trade tariffs will totally isolate British farmers from continental markets.

 

However, with a price hike on key exports, such as beef, prospectively reaching as high as 59 per cent, what is the reason for European consumers to buy British?

 

Aside from those with an anti-EU agenda who particularly want to see an independent UK flourish, our custom across Europe is likely to plummet.

 

True, this could be offset via free trade agreements with scores of other non-EU states. But these take time to agree, especially as it is widely known we are negotiating from a relative position of weakness.

 

On top of this, the cost of exporting goods is set to skyrocket. Selling to the Commonwealth sounds nice, but how affordable is it for small-scale farmers to ship their produce to Australia?

 

If we cannot make savings externally, then penny-pinching becomes the name of the game at home.

 

Labour costs could be our salvation, as while we may lose about 67,000 vital seasonal farm workers from primarily Eastern Europe, increased investment in automation could be our salvation.

 

Globally, computers and machinery have been used in all aspects of agriculture.

 

Tending to crops, caring for animals and monitoring weather patterns – every aspect of producing food is done by increasingly intelligent devices.

 

Rather than simply pay farming to simply go on, business as usual, Government would do far better to subsidise the installation and maintenance of these systems and train farmers in their use.

 

Let us make such a hefty outlay now before the storm hits, so we are prepared should Brexit go badly. The competitiveness of our farming depends on such innovation and we must adapt to remain competitive in the new Europe to come.

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