Derbyshire farmer Michael Seals on the opportunities that Brexit brings for UK agriculture.
The Referendum on our place in Europe has already brought with it a sense of hysteria, with fear-mongering from those who want to stay in.
“You can’t trust a British government to support our industry.”
“Where would we be without the CAP?”
Many farmers I have spoken to are unsure. There are the committed outers, a few committed inners, and a lot of farmers who are feeling uncomfortable sitting on a very sharp fence!
As I look at the industry today the new Basic Farm Payment is going out, some £2 billion, mired with complexity and bureaucracy. Is this going to a thriving industry? No, it’s going to an industry that is on its knees. All that money is doing no more than ensuring a brief respite for many farmers.
I have a simple view - there has to be a better way of supporting this industry than a declining area payment coupled with a complex and bureaucratic Pillar II scheme.
I listened to George Eustice last week and his message was clear - this is an opportunity to design a better way of working, find a better solution for agriculture using government funding and it’s for the industry to suggest how. The hysteria that greeted this from the “Remain” campaigners is a little surprising bearing in mind that its leading proponents negotiated and must bear some responsibility for the CAP we have today.
If we take our cattle and dairy sectors as an example, I have never known them so depressed. Irrespective of the £200m plus that arrives as an acreage payment, that sector is dying in front of our eyes. As things stand, young farmers see no way in, old farmers see no way out.
What can our Minister do? Nothing, whilst we are a part of the EU.
Post-Brexit what could an English Minister do? Help restructure, with investment incentives for younger dairy farmers to take over? An exit strategy involving culling cattle for older farmers? Using our produce for foreign aid? Investment support for new buildings and parlours? Endemic disease support, currently costing tens of millions in losses and lost productivity? Research directed towards lameness and mastitis?
These are just a few of the options that would be available to us as an industry if we leave the straight jacket of the EU. I am sure there are many more. Just how much more effective would the dialogue between the NFU and DEFRA be at designing better outcomes in an EU-free future?
This is why I want us to leave the EU. I want to see our ministers in charge and held accountable for our industry - no different to steel, energy, immigration or any other policy.
We have a choice, let’s use our vote.