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Arable farmers need tariff protection to survive a no-deal Brexit

If Government is hell-bent on leaving the EU without a deal, then UK farmers will need some tariff protection to avoid being undercut by low-cost producers in Eastern Europe, says NFU deputy president Guy Smith.

Harvest time – that high octane part of the year when you want to cram 25 hours into the working day trying to beat the weather.

 

Through the windows of the cab of the combine or baler, there is a constant scanning of the skies looking for black clouds.

 

Not being sure what’s coming over the horizon is part of being a farmer. Which is a laboured way to introduce the subject of Brexit.

 

For some, Brexit isn’t just about the threat of storm-clouds, it’s about getting to the sunlit uplands.

 

Either way it’s the getting there that is the challenging bit. The prospect of a no-deal Brexit still resonates like a weather forecast threatening thunderstorms for UK agriculture.

 

Yield

Aside from the vicissitudes of the weather, the other two key coordinates to chart the way through harvest are markets and yield.

 

While oilseed rape and the other break crops seemed to have performed somewhat indifferently, cereals appear to be having a bumper year, even if quality is on the slide where the showers have been unkindly persistent.

 

As is often the case when there’s plenty of grain about, prices are under pressure as growers want to clear space in grain stores.

 

My local friendly grain trader tells me one factor in this price weakening situation is that the Portuguese, Spanish and Irish buyers are not really in the market.

 

This is the threat of Brexit writ large.

 

Eye-watering

 

A large UK wheat harvest will mean a large exportable surplus, which in turn raises the possibility it could trigger an eye-watering €95 tariff on UK grain exports to our usual EU markets in the event of a no-deal Brexit on November 1.

So just like other sectors – most notably the sheep sector – to prevent market chaos, arable farmers really do need an orderly Brexit with a deal if we are to transition out of the EU.

 

But if Government is hell bent on leaving on Halloween ‘deal or no deal’, then some proper planning needs to be put in place to avoid market melt-down.

 

For starters, there needs to be some tariff or TRQ protection on grain imports.

 

It is simply unacceptable for UK arable farmers to find their exports subject to high tariffs while not being protected from the low-cost producers on the EU’s eastern borders.

 

Bio-ethanol

 

Similarly, measures should be brought in to stimulate internal markets for grain. One way to do this would be to raise the bio-ethanol inclusion for fuel.

 

This wouldn’t just help arable farmers, it would also create jobs in the north east and help the UK increase its renewable fuel production.

And if politicians raised the objection that this could raise the price of food, they need reminding a 10 per cent increase in the wheat price only justifies a penny on a loaf of bread on the supermarket shelf.

 

Seeing as the wheat price has fallen 25 per cent in the last twelve months, the chances of bread riots on the streets of Birmingham are unlikely, to say the least.

 

Guy can be found tweeting at @essexpeasant


Read More

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Tariffs for most food imports to stay up in no-deal Brexit, but concerns over cereals Tariffs for most food imports to stay up in no-deal Brexit, but concerns over cereals

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