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With Brexit proper now close, farmers must ask if they’re ready for what comes next

In just over four months, the UK will finally achieve its independence from the EU. But farmers should be asking if they’re prepared for big changes in policy and trade, says George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA.

A little over four years have passed since that sticky June day in 2016 when a majority of UK citizens voted to leave the European Union.

 

In just over four months, we finally snip through the Brexit umbilical cord and achieve our independent existence.

 

The four years of talk, preparation, prevarication and speculation will be at an end and we will be doing it for real.

 

Although the response to Covid-19 has caused something of a hiatus in the work to develop post-EU policies for agriculture, there has been a marked change in pace just recently.

 

At least that is the case with Defra, where there is a burning desire to manipulate the regained levers of policy influence from day one.

 

Considered

 

This contrasts with the Welsh Government which, while wanting to do things radically differently, is taking a more considered approach with plans for a pre-Christmas White Paper pointing to the introduction of a Agriculture (Wales) Bill in the Senedd following the May elections, with substantive change likely not to occur before 2022 at the earliest.

 

However, policy decisions aside, in the event that Michel Barnier and David Frost are unable to bridge the stubborn gap in their respective roles as EU and UK chief trade negotiators, for better or worse, fully outside the EU single market and customs union, the economic environment within which UK farming will operate will be very different.

 

No doubt many of us will have attended numerous conferences and evening meetings (when they were a thing) listening to presentations urging farmers to prepare for the change that is coming.

 

Serious

 

With the change now at our door, the question is; are we ready? Because, if not, things are about to get quite serious.

 

In the let land market, the past few years have seen many landlords take a short-term view.

 

Encouraged by their advisers to keep their options open to respond to whatever new Government offerings appear over the Brexit horizon, has meant a lack of ability for many farm businesses using let land to plan for the long term.

 

And yet, in the face of continuing uncertainty, the sensible thing for a landlord to do should be to find a good tenant with whom a long-term agreement could be reached at a sustainable level of rent to see them through the choppy waters of the next few years.

 

Similarly, there are those taking a punt on the short-term offerings available at eye watering levels of rent.

 

Overinflated

 

Usually these are large owner occupiers with an overinflated belief in their ability to spread fixed costs onto more acres.

 

In fact, all they end up doing is losing money on the additional land and taking their eye off the ball on the main farmland.

 

Short-term agreements at very high levels of rent are not the way to secure the long-term sustainability of the let sector of agriculture as we end our transitional relationship with the EU.

 

We need a serious and urgent rethink to be ready to meet the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead.

 

George can be found tweeting at @georgewdunn

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