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Derbyshire farmer Nick Adams makes the case for Brexit

Nick Adams, an organic beef and sheep farmer from Derbyshire ,makes the case for Brexit in his opening address to Harper Adams University at their Brexit debate on 17th May 2016. The motion was as follows:

"This house believes that UK food security, farmer prosperity and the natural environment will be better served by greater separation from our European neighbours."

Thank you for the invitation to propose the motion.

I apologize that you've not got Owen Paterson or George Eustice - just a dog and stick farmer from Derbyshire! I'm not a politician, a member of any political party or hold any office other than representing my County within the NFU. I am a farmer, my sole income is derived from agriculture and includes the basic payment of around 15000 euros on 160 acres of lowland.

As such I have arrived at my views having taken a balanced view of the evidence and opinions put before me.

Firstly lets look at the CAP and its effects on UK agriculture.

In my lifetime UK agriculture has been in managed decline, punctuated by crises and periods of relative prosperity. This can not be disputed by any objective measure.

  • inadequate new entrants and innovation leading to stagnation

  • production has plateaued

  • self-sufficiency has fallen

  • soils are depleted and damaged

  • weeds and diseases flourish

  • incomes have fallen and hence the social standing of the farmer is diminished

This last point was the one clause in the Treaty of Rome, that established the EU, to directly affect farmers. Article 39 (b) states

“thus to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture.”

With falling incomes many have left agriculture and the remainder have had to expand and increase production to maintain their incomes. This has knock on effects on the standard of farming, and farmers health and relationships.

Of course not all of this can be laid at the door of the EU but much can and it is also very convenient for our regulators and representatives to hide behind. How many times have we heard “you have to do this or you can't do that – it's from Europe.” Focusing on this endless stream of regulation and constant changes in support, divert our limited resources and energy from being applied to what should be our main aim of increasing the prosperity of UK Agriculture.

If we remain in the EU we know that:

  • subsidies will fall as the budget is stretched

  • the accession of new countries, including Turkey which will become the largest member, will further reduce the agriculture budget

  • the next reform is due in 2020 just when we will have adapted to the current one

  • trade negotiations such as TTIP and Mercosor will lead to cheaper imports and lower prices

  • regulation will increase and also prevent us acting in our own interest.

We will also have lost influence as we continue in our semi-detached relationship where we have opted out of the euro, the Shengen area and other projects. As this is to be a “once in a generation decision” our negotiating stance will also be weakened.

Some state that they would rather put their faith in the unelected civil servants and European politicians to protect our farming interests. This is a council of despair. Yes, we have had and our likely to have again some “unhelpful” politicians. But to think that we are not better off putting our case directly to those in power is incredible.

The food and drink sector is the UK's single largest manufacturing sector accounting for 7% of GDP and employing nearly four million people. I ask.

What minister could afford to undermine agriculture - the industry that provides the raw materials?

We are told that leaving could jeopardize our trade. We buy twice as much food from the EU as we sell them. We have an overall trade deficit and a deficit in every sector except financial services. It would be a pretty poor negotiator that managed to get a deal worse than our current position. We produce very little exportable surplus agricultural products - except occasionally in barley a large proportion of which goes outside the EU. Who benefits from this circular trade? Wouldn't it be better in any case to substitute the imports with our own production.

Of course there are risks and uncertainty to leaving just as there are to staying. I expect subsidies will fall but as a relatively wealthy country I would expect this could be phased in not imposed overnight as it was in New Zealand.

We could face increased competition. However only a couple of years ago the establishment were warning of the grave consequences of “the perfect storm” of increasing demand and reduced supply. We were urged to increase production. (Look what that's done to the dairy sector!) So I ask. Will these cheaper imports always be available? What government can afford to take the risk of allowing our self-sufficiency to fall even lower than it already is?

Given an exit our ministers would be free to develop a new UK agriculture policy for the four nations. Not UKIP but a UKAP! Thankfully we have strong and well resourced professional bodies such as the NFU to input into the formation of this policy. There are ways of supporting agriculture much more effectively than with a payment to landowners.

Policies that we could push for would include;

All public procurement of food should be to UK standards. So food for schools, hospitals, prisons, armed forces and foreign aid etc. should all be of UK origin. This could be at little extra cost but would be a great customer for us as well as giving government the credibility of putting it's money where it's mouth is (or even it's mouth where it's money is), in terms of the standards it unilaterally expects us to achieve.

Supportive policies are needed on matters which need centralized control, such as eradication of diseases such as Sheep Scab, Bovine Viral Diarrhea and of course a countrywide approach to Bovine Tuberculosis . It's OK preaching bio-security to farmers when disease can so easily cross uncontrolled borders. We should not underestimate the cost of disease and the benefits that we would gain from improved animal health.

Direct support should mean paying for the result you want. So I would expect;

  • improved support to marginal farms, sensitive landscapes and to small farms.

  • a proper scheme for young farmers and new entrants possibly combined with a retirement program.

The EU via the CAP attempts to rule for all. The Polish peasant, the Paris basin arable farmer and the Welsh hill farmer are all thought of in the same way. It can not and does not work.

The UK is possibly the best place in the world to farm. We have stable and relatively young soils, a 'normally' beneficial climate, generations of knowledge skill and experience, a large and growing domestic market and the EU market only 20 miles away! We hold the world record for wheat yields, have the perfect climate for grass based production and of course world class agricultural education! We could not only survive but thrive outside the EU.

I would rather but my faith in myself , my industry and my country.

We should trust in:

  • our skill as farmers

  • the quality of our produce

  • the strength of our arguments

We have turned a corner in garnering public support. We can use new media to tell our great story, to reach our consumers and encourage them to support our policy aims.

We could reverse the decline in UK agriculture and work towards the productive, market focused, dynamic industry we all want.

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