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RHS 2019: ‘Brexit uncertainty has put Scottish farmers in a hole not of their making’

Confidence among Scottish farmers is being eroded due to the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and a lack of clarity over future policy.

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Andrew McCornick
Andrew McCornick
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RHS 2019: ‘Brexit uncertainty has put Scottish farmers in a hole not of their making’

Only one in 10 farmers and crofters are positive about their post-Brexit future, according to a survey by NFU Scotland.

 

While 54 per cent said breaking away from the EU would have a negative effect on their business, 74 per cent have not undertaken any planning to future proof themselves.

 

Revealing the results on the first day of the Royal Highland Show (June 20) NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “Three years of frustrating to-ing and fro-ing on Brexit, with no clear political outcome or direction, have deeply eroded confidence at farm and croft level and left many of our members in a hole that is not of their making.

 

Alarming

“The deep-rooted uncertainty around the whole Brexit process is reflected in the alarming number of Scottish farmers and crofters who have yet to undertake any business planning in connection with Brexit.


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“Brexit has already had an impact on many businesses through increased costs and the postponement of planned new investments while respondents are budgeting for a significant increase in input costs post-Brexit. Many have had difficulty recruiting staff and a greater percentage expect that to become even more difficult post-Brexit.”


Most respondents said they felt negative or very negative about post-Brexit farming or crofting in Scotland, regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. The negativity jumps significantly in the event of a ‘no deal’.

 

It came as a Scottish Government poll found 90 per cent of the Scottish public recognised farming as being ’vital’ to economic growth.

 

Mr McCornick said there would be ‘far-reaching consequences for the delivery of goods in the national interest’ if farming was ‘allowed to slip into decline’.

 

Clear signal

Giving a clear signal to politicians, he said the union, along with its counterparts in the rest of the UK, wanted to see a commitment to securing a future arrangement which delivers free and frictionless trade with the EU.

He added: “We need direction on policy and a commitment to future funding. Scottish Government and Westminster must wake up to the fact that people are making business decisions in a vacuum.”

 

Of the small proportion of farmers who had made changes to their businesses, Mr McCornick said some, like his sons on the farm at home, were reverting back to ‘older’ farming methods such as strip grazing. Optimising soil fertility and maintaining PH levels were also key.

 

He told FG: “They are future proofing the soil, getting the most out of it and ultimately that should lead to less inputs. There are a whole lot of tweaks that people can do to lead them to being less reliant on support.

 

“But we need the market to work and for the market to work we need to know what trade is. Trade needs to know what the future deal is.”

 

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the NFUS survey reflected the uncertainty and concern over the impact of leaving the EU.

 

He said: “It is not surprising and further demonstrates the terrible impact Brexit will have on Scotland’s economy.

 

“The low level of preparedness is worrying, though this not unique to the agricultural industry, and the Scottish Government will continue to do what it can to provide businesses with guidance on how to prepare for Brexit, whatever scenario we may face.

 

“We are now over two months into the extension period and the UKG has still to provide much needed clarity on key issues that would enable farmers, crofters and rural businesses to prepare for the possibility of leaving the EU. This current drift is not acceptable.”

The headline figures from the survey of 689 NFUS members are:

  • 74% of members have not undertaken any business planning around Brexit.
  • Taking ‘no deal’ out of the equation, 11% of members think that a Brexit deal would have a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ impact on their business and 55% think it will be ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’
  • 11% of members say a ‘no deal’ Brexit would have a ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ impact on their business and 64% view it as ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’.
  • 45% have already experienced Brexit-related impacts (direct and indirect) since the referendum – of that, the main issues have been increased costs of inputs (54%); putting off new investments (51%); putting off expansion in the business (35%) and difficulty in recruiting and/or retaining staff (12%).
  • After Brexit, members anticipate increased cost in inputs (77%); difficulty with exports (51%); difficulty with importing inputs (38%); putting off new investments (38%) and expansion (30%); difficulty in agreeing future contracts (20%) and difficulty in recruiting and/or retaining staff (22%).
  • 36% have considered additional or alternative farming or non-farming enterprises purely as a result of Brexit.
  • 65% have some degree of confidence about their business longevity after Brexit while 35% have low or no confidence
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