Rashmi Dube: Uncertainty gripping the farming sector as Brexit clock counts down

Agriculture in the UK employs 400,000 people and, including fishing, contributes £10.7bn to the economy (2014 statistics in the report of 2016 from Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.) It is also the main supplier in the UK for the food and drinks industry, which makes up 20 per cent of the UK manufacturing sector.

Gerrard & Verita Farmer, Croftbank Bank Farm & Farmer's Farm Shop, Langholme Lane, Westwoodside. Farm and farm shop with Red Poll and Aberdeen Angus cattle and Wiltshire sheep.

However, what you might find surprising is, according to Niesr Agriculture in the UK Briefing No. 4 report, “only 3 per cent of farmers are under the age of 35 and 30 per cent are 65 or older”.This raises concerns for the sector in respect of succession planning. However, for the moment there is a more pressing issue, as we are fast approaching the March 29 deadline and the real impact of Brexit on this sector is likely to be a lasting one.

The farming industry contributes a lot to the UK overall; not just in terms of the traditional sense of food and drink but also the management of “70 per cent of the UK land” area and helps to maintain landscapes of cultural heritage. The business of farming is central to managing the rural environment. These rural areas form places of work, residence and recreation.

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Agriculture doesn’t just stop there, it goes beyond this. The sector provides services not only to rural but also urban populations by providing drinking water and flood protection. Given this industry effects not only other business but also our daily lives, the questions have to be asked how much of a real impact does the agriculture sector have, and how do we predict Brexit will affect it?

Farms in the UK vary in terms of land cultivation and management. Large farms “(above 100 ha) account for 22.4 per cent of all farm holdings in the UK and three quarters of farm area”. Most farmers depend on subsidies to ensure they can continue farming. “Up to 50 per cent of all the money they receive is in subsidies.” The export market is also crucial to the UK and we exported “£18bn worth of food and drink in 2015. Our biggest export markets are Ireland, France, the USA, Netherlands and Germany.”

The main products for export are “whisky, worth £4bn per year; salmon, cheese, wine and lamb.” “Within the exports are 73 protected regional and traditional British foods,” one of which is Yorkshire forced rhubarb.

The research, and there is a large amount, shows that price is the single biggest factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions, as identified by the Global Food Security Food Programme’s Public Panel. A survey by Mintel (2016) found that “56 per cent of shoppers say they try to buy British food whenever they can, and 77 per cent agree that it is important to support British farmers”.

So where does this leave the agriculture sector come March 20? The departure from the European Union can mean the following:

The framework for UK agriculture since the early 1970s has been dependent upon the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. The UK will now have to develop a new policy framework for agriculture and the countryside environment.

Exporting to the EU could result in further administrative costs – as a consequence, prices could rise which may lead to reduced sales

Where the EU has negotiated international trade agreements on our behalf, replacement deals will have to be negotiated to ensure continued access to important non-EU export markets. This takes time.

A sharp rise in price on goods due to the impact of tariffs

Loss of subsidies

Delays in perishable goods reaching their destination.

Further consideration has to be given to controls on live animals and animal products travelling between UK and EU from the end of the transition period in December 2020 (if we leave with a deal).

In Yorkshire, we are already somewhat ahead of the curve and tried to take things into own hands. In 2015 The Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s ‘YAS Brexit Working Party’ was established. They have been in discussion with the government to ensure the following still takes place for the regions:

Grants for research


Pay out period – although their report in 2018 did identify that there was a succession issue within the industry

Review of the power within the supply chain and the removal of it from retailers.

Regardless of the type of Brexit we finally get, it is likely to raise the price of food for the everyday buyer.

As far as Yorkshire is concerned, we have over the last two years at least opened dialogue with the Government in order to protect our farming industry.