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Talking policy with Tom Bradshaw: Growing a cereals success story after Brexit

I usually try and avoid getting too political in articles but I feel the need to spell out the potential impact of a no-deal or WTO exit from the European Union for the combinable cropping sector. 

When the proposed UK tariff schedule was released, in the event of this type of exit from the EU, I was livid.

 

Foundation

 

Grain production is an incredibly important part of day-to-day life, quite literally providing the bread for our tables. The supply chain employs more than 43,000 people and contributes £3.5 billion to the national economy.

 

The grain we produce forms the foundation of the food and drink industry, the UK’s largest manufacturing sector.

 

Yet under this tariff schedule, the UK cereals sector was going to be left completely exposed, without any tariff protection whatsoever, while UK exporters would face tariffs on products sent to the EU.

 

This will be happening during a period of time where we are told that our support payments are also going to be phased out, which have become a lifeline for the sector.

 

Against that background, it is not too much to ask for reciprocal tariffs to be applied in the event of a no-deal. But, because we are a sector that already operates at market prices, government deemed this to be unnecessary.


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Balance

 

However, it would only take government putting minimal tariffs on cereals coming into the UK to help maintain market balance and offer some protection to UK growers from imports of lower standards.

 

This season it looks like we may produce an exportable surplus. We have a slightly higher wheat acreage and the crops generally look well, with the recent rainfall, although excessive for some, coming just in time after a prolonged dry spell.

 

But the downside is that, in the event of the UK becoming net exporters of cereal crops, the lack of protection could cost the sector more than £300 million due to the farm gate price being reduced to allow for the export tariff.

One of the reasons put forward against reciprocal tariffs is the impact they could have on food prices. Clearly food price inflation is a key issue for any government.

 

However, the NFU has calculated that, in the event of reciprocal tariffs being applied, it would equate to around 0.08p per loaf of bread, which is inconsequential.

 

Negotiation

 

Another aspect that I struggle to understand is that we are giving away negotiating power before we even begin trade discussions.

 

The signal this is sending appears to be that UK farming, and particularly the sector responsible for managing the largest area of land, is not worth defending.

 

In the long run it will not be the raw ingredients we import. Instead our manufacturing sector will move overseas. Just imagine how damaging that would be for the UK economy.

It is for this reason we are trying to garner from all our political representation with the #YourHarvest campaign, which has been launched again at the recent Cereals Event.

 

As a cereals sector we are very ambitious about what we can deliver for our customers, both at home and abroad, producing crops grown to the highest standards, while protecting and enhancing our environment.

 

A positive trade and agricultural policy will allow UK agriculture to thrive, provided that government understands the importance of farming and our allied industries.

 

There has never been a more important time to make sure farming’s voice is heard and I would urge anyone who has an interest in farming or thriving rural communities to try and make sure that the messages are made very clearly to your local MP.

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