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BREXIT: Welfare standards key for Beef sector

In the latest in Farmers Guardian’s Shape Your Farming Future round-table debates, Ben Briggs gets English and Scottish beef farmers and cattle industry chiefs together at Carlisle to hear their views on post-Brexit farming.


Britain’s livestock farmers are well known for their market-leading welfare tandards, but somre are worried ministerial promises of cheap food post-Brexit may undermine these qualities.


With import markets also key to some livestock farmers’ inputs, the beef sector is rightly keeping an eye on its margins. Here is what our panel had to say about beef and Brexit.

The round-table panel

  • Tom Cockburn, West Linton. 300 hectares (740 acres) 100 sucklers
  • Anthony Heath, Market Drayton, Shropshire. 50 pedigree Simmental cows and 68,000 free-range laying hens
  • Chris Dodds, executive secretary, Livestock Auctioneers Association
  • Andrew Wright, Scottish Association of Livestock Valuers and Appraisers


What do you think the Brexit vote means for UK farming?

TC: What the future levels of support will be from the British Government is interesting and there is no easy answer to this. There is uncertainty over whether the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme will remain.


CD: If we can secure good trade deals with other countries then it could mean we are not reliant on subsidies, but there is no indication as to how those will pan out.

The biggest threat for the beef industry is if they let cheap imports in. We need to make sure this does not happen and if they do allow them, then they are not at a lower standard than what we produce to. We could ruin the beef industry overnight if this happened.


CD: The Irish could be our biggest allies as they are in a perilous place and really need access to our market.


AW: There has got to be different policies in Scotland which take into account the amount of Less Favoured Area we have. If you are going to keep a subsidy system it has to bear this in mind.


AH: Any support mechanism will come from the British Government and this will end up supporting British agriculture, but to what level? I cannot see the British Government being favourable to agriculture when there are huge holes in things such as the NHS. If you look at what it costs to subsidise farming it would cost a lot more to provide farmers, if they went out of business, with income support and welfare payments than it would to give then a farm subsidy.

Will direct payments remain and can active farmers be identified?

AW: The environmentalists are a big lobbying body and we will have to make sure we are delivering what people want and make sure people know it is delivered by farming. What they want from their landscapes would not be there without farmers and we need to stress this. We also need to ensure we have a payment mechanism which supports active farmers and is not going to landowners who are not farming. A headage system could work, but it is not palatable to the public.


CD: It has always been so difficult to ensure the farmer gets the money and not the landlord. We have a system which is deterring young people from coming in and this needs to change.


TC: Maybe, but there is far too much capital required to start in farming unless you are born in to it. This is a business fact – 100 cows is £150,000 so it is a lot of money to get started and this is one issue the sector faces.

What concerns you about any new trade deals?

AW: Export tariffs are not as important for the beef industry as we sell most of the product to the domestic market.


CD: Supermarkets are worried about how cheap they can keep the food on the shelves and, with so much beef coming from the Republic of Ireland, they will not want tariffs which affect this trade. There is British and Irish in McDonald’s and those big companies will fight to keep access to it.


AW: It is essential we want the same things as an industry. It is great to have a national group as, while Scotland has its own agenda, we have to be careful to have an arrangement which suits all the UK. We cannot afford to have this border because so much goes in to England. Food and drink in Scotland is a huge thing and I hope the Scottish Government will see the light.


CD: Too often we become fragmented as an industry and get picked off as individuals, not as a united voice. We need everyone round the table, and this means England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have sought to bring livestock organisations together and establish what we want to fight for.


AH: There are more than 60 million people in the UK and they all need feeding, so we should not talk ourselves into doom and gloom. Look how many cars Germany or France sell in this country and understand the access they will want with their trade deals. We have huge consumer power and should understand this. The problem is we have issues, such as TB, which are a real concern for trade with other countries. We need to get rid of the disease as parts of the country are riddled with it, with farmers treated as pariahs. There are enough barriers in our way without disease being one of them.


CD: If we want access there are going to be certain disease standards we will have to adhere to and, instead of wasting time trying to scrap things such as sheep EID or electronic cattle tagging, we should be looking how to make the system as simple as possible. We have a great opportunity to ask what we need for the UK and what works for us so we can build a policy from there.


TC: It is, without a doubt, about having something which works for us. I do not think much will change where regulation is concerned.

What do you want from Brexit?

  • Chris Dodds: Trade deals which allow farmers to get a proper return from the market and access to labour
  • Andrew White: No grey areas and the ability to keep our farmers farming
  • Tom Cockburn: Trade agreements which allow fair prices for farmers, although this raises questions about the supermarkets and their role
  • Anthony Heath: I hope inputs can remain at a reasonable level. Soya prices are a big concern for me
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