'˜Give farms policy not soundbites', industry demands

Agricultural leaders have demanded that the Government urgently 'adds substance to soundbites' to give British farming an overdue sense of direction with less than nine months to go before Brexit.

Farming leaders are fed up with the lack of clear direction for farm policy after Brexit, saying the Government's proposals to date amount to too little with less than nine months to go until Brexit. Picture by James Hardisty.

Pervading uncertainty about Whitehall’s vision for agriculture has caused frustration to deepen among farmers who had been optimistic for their livelihoods outside of the European Union, according to one dairy sector boss.

Recent farmgate price uplifts do not compensate for uncertainty over future trade and access to foreign labour which undermines farmers’ plans, industry leaders warned, with livestock being reared and crops sown with no real clarity over the markets they will serve after March 2019.

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Mike King, chairman of The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, said: “There are a lot of great soundbites from the politicians but very little substance.

“They have listened to environmental NGOs and farmers but we are still waiting to see how the Government will marry these aspirations together.”

The industry gathers at this week’s Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. On the prevailing mood, Mr King said: “There’s more pessimism initially, when we knew we were leaving Europe. There are a number of people who were saying this could be an opportunity who are now worried. It’s a lack of information, that’s the big thing. What we are looking for is direction.”

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said his sector’s big question was over the future of trade and it remains “completely unanswered”.

“We need ongoing access to the European market. In any given year between 35 and 40 per cent of our production is exported and 96 per cent of that goes into the EU. That deal is crucial to us and will dictate the lamb price.”

Growers are concerned too said Guy Poskitt, a member of the National Farmers’ Union’s horticulture and potatoes board who grows root vegetables near Goole.

“We feel we know no more than we did about what’s going to happen after Brexit than we did two years ago,” Mr Poskitt said.

Richard Lister, chairman of the National Pig Association, questioned the Government’s inaction to address the shortage of foreign labour affecting farming.

“The Government has still not come forward with a solution while businesses have borne the brunt,” Mr Lister, who farms in Boroughbridge said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to shape the future of our farming industry and improve the support we give to Britain’s farmers.

“To provide stability for our farmers, we have pledged to continue to commit the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the parliament.”