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BREXIT: Optimism high among dairy farmers despite new challenges

Insights

In the latest of our round-table debates on farming after Brexit, Alex Black spoke to dairy farmers to discuss what they wanted for the future of the dairy industry outside the European Union.

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The round-table panel

  • Michael Oakes, Birmingham 180 cows supplying Arla, NFU dairy board chairman
  • Tom Rawson, Yorkshire 1,500 cows supplying Arla on three sites and First Milk on one site
  • David Brookes, Staffordshire 200 cows supplying Arla
  • Phil Allin, Devon 300 cows supplying Dairy Crest
  • Nigel Stacey, Buckinghamshire 140 cows supplying Arla
  • Andrew Branton, Devon 100 cows supplying Dairy Crest

Will Brexit offer an opportunity to cut down on red tape?

DB: The dairy farmers I speak to in my local area who also voted out, most of them are just sick to the back teeth of regulation.

 

They do not underestimate the fact they will not get rid of regulation but it is the type of regulation which seems to be coming out of Europe which just does not sit well with British dairy farmers.

 

I think most of us would like to rip the whole lot up, but this is not going to happen.

 

A lot of the regulation which is coming in is not even scientifically based and the UK Government has been fighting back on some of this.

 

NS: I do not think we will see any reduction in legislation.

 

I think we will see different legislation, especially in environmental schemes, and we may have our hands tied more than we have at the moment.

 

PA: Do you want to be able to export to Europe? We are not going to have any less regulation if we want to import into Europe so it is a nonsense.


How far up the agenda do you think farming will be?

PA: You have the most sophisticated non-governmental organisations (NGOs) probably anywhere. They will also be knocking on Government’s doors.

 

We have relied heavily on our European counterparts who have agriculture as a major part of their economy. We do not.

 

MO: Brexit does give us the opportunity to revisit some of the legislation we are under now. The biggest threat is the whole sector gets discarded for a good deal for finance.

 

What makes us think Leadsom and Defra have any influence with the Prime Minister and the people who are driving Brexit forward? Ultimately, we have to also influence business departments about the value of agriculture.

 

PA: We need to ensure we are not sold down the river by individual bilateral trade agreements.


What would you like a post-Brexit subsidy system to look like?

DB: I do not think there is an appetite in dairy for the Basic Payment Scheme as it is. There are other innovative ways in which the Government can come in and support industries such as dairy.

 

TR: The key thing is, we have got to use the money to get new entrants. You have to remember, let us make no bones about it, half of the UK’s dairy farmers are millionaires.

 

They could sell up and live in Monaco or London. This is not going to stick for long with people.

 

The reality with the Single Farm Payment is the NHS is going to suck the life out of it. It is not serving its purpose at the moment.

 

One of the landlords who I pay rent to just keeps it. It is paying his retirement fund and if he sold his farm he could get about £2.8 million for it. Why should taxpayers fund his retirement when really he should sell the farm to someone who wants to work it?

 

The problem is we are in a situation at the moment where the richest survive and not necessarily the best and this comes down to your Single Farm Payment

 

MO: Personally, I think we need to be looking at some kind of income stability tools so we are in the real world but there are times when we need to manage markets. We need to work with Government to create our safety net.


How do you feel looking to the future?

AB: There is definitely a future for dairy there. It is just going to be challenging.


If we can produce what the consumer wants and be allowed to compete, we should be alright.


If we have a bad deal, the currency will go down and bail us out. If we have a good deal, we will have a stronger currency and this will balance things out the other way.

 

TR: I am probably the most excited I have been about dairy farming for a long time.


I think a lot of dairy farmers are getting a bit like they do not want to do it any more and this will bring opportunities.

 

For me, really, I voted for Brexit as we do not rely on the Single Farm Payment. It is just going to bring opportunity for selfish reasons.

 

MO: I did not vote for Brexit but we have to look for those opportunities. We will be able to shape our own legislation and actually concentrate on our own market going forward and the opportunities this brings.

 

There are threats, we all know this. Dairy is in less of a vulnerable position than some other sectors.

 

DB: I am optimistic about the future. I think we have to be positive about the future. There are lots of dangers out there and a lot of threats to us as an industry.

 

We have a captive audience and we have got a major milk buying consumer in the UK. We have a home market we can actually fill and I think this is an opportunity.

 

NS: I am quite optimistic about the future. One of our biggest threats is other dairy farmers. We have to be far more cohesive in the way we represent and the way we operate.

 

I do not think we will see any reduction in legislation. I think we will see different legislation, especially in environmental schemes, and we might end up with our hands tied more than we do at the moment.

 

We need to keep plugging away but we have got to be far more united as an industry.

Post-Brexit priorities

  • Michael Oakes: We have to convince Government of the value of agriculture. The biggest threat is the whole sector gets discarded for a good deal for finance
  • Tom Rawson: Subsidies have got to help new entrants. We need people coming through who are going to drive the industry
  • David Brookes: Secure our market and promote British product to British consumers. There is an appetite for local product to be in there and doing this more proactively
  • Phil Allin: We have to ensure we are not sold down the river by individual bilateral trade agreements
  • Nigel Stacey: Stability. My fear is we will go into boom and bust cycles too readily
  • Andrew Branton: We have to be allowed to compete
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