Brexit will create winners and losers in farming, but the direction of travel makes me fear there will be more losers than winners, says Oliver Dowding, an apple grower in South East Somerset.
All those promises made in 2016 are coming home to roost now, having created endless hot air and division in the years since the referendum.
With trade and finance markets in added turmoil since Covid kicked off, and with no end in sight, the lack of clarity is crippling for many, just adding to the stress in most businesses.
Mental health issues on farms will undoubtedly become worse.
This week the Tenant Farmers Association organised a ‘meeting’ over Zoom with Defra Secretary George Eustice.
It was fascinating to take part, and in normal times might have been harder.
He only had to give up an hour, with some prep time, not the usual many hours to travel and fewer people involved.
Were there any nuggets? Not enough!
Lots of platitudes and general words, not enough detailed clarity. But I don’t think anyone expected any. Much was reiterating which we already knew.
This included aiming to move the focus for future support away from ‘income foregone’. Whatever he thinks sustainable farming is would apparently be better incentivised by some time in 2022.
On rewilding/tree planting, he dropped into clichés about sustainable intensification for most and then rewilding elsewhere, but with no suggestions on how tenants would be impacted/benefit or the areas affected and funding for them.
He also said he wants a bigger share of the supply chain ‘pot’ to go to farmers.
We all do, George, but until it’s delivered such comments are hot air and possibly offering false hope. Getting, as he suggested, the Groceries Code Adjudicator to have greater involvement is good – but will it deliver £ to farms?
Mark Coulman, chairman of the TFA, asked how tenants could get the same level of access and benefit from new schemes, e.g. ELMs.
Eustice hopes they can.
But he sees area based payments as bad and wants more land on the market for rental, suggesting this will deliver better value for tenants, as in naively thinking more volume = reduced rents!
He also wants increased numbers of longer term tenancies and greater security, but says it’s not a target. Thus it’s aspirational good PR, with delivery much harder to achieve.
Would there be a seamless transition for organic farmers with certification? He hopes so!
He’s not ruled out having an organic module as part of Tier 1 of ELMs. How that would work remains to be seen.
What we don’t know is how certification for export or imports will hold up trade.
For imports of a product I sell currently, organic certification will require the supplying foreign businesses to be certified in Ireland and the UK.
Every shipment will have to go through customs, with each consignment being checked individually, and pay duty. From Ireland this will be 16 per cent.
Furthermore, delays are going to be significant.
That’s surely going to wreck supply chains.
For a shipment of 200 boxes direct to customers, each will have to be checked.
If treated as one shipment of 200 boxes, such as for Amazon to forward ship, then one overarching inspection will be made.
This speeds transition, but the direct route to consumers is further hampered. Amazon gets bigger!
Am I optimistic for post-Brexit British agriculture? Sadly, no! Obviously some will win, but I fear more will lose.
Oliver can be found tweeting at @OliverDowding