Brexit could be a leap into the light for UK agriculture
March 3, 2016
Transcript of George Eustice's speech at the Farmers for Britain launch 23/03/2016
March 23, 2016
Brexit is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for significant and much-needed change in the agricultural industry.
June 4, 2016
In or out? It’s the big question on everyone’s lips, but as a young farmer in the South West my mind was quite easily made up. It boiled down to this: do I feel like we need change in the agricultural sector or do I think that it’s a stable, successful industry already? And quite simply the answer is that yes, we need change!
I am also not alone in this view. When speaking to many other young farmers they feel the same way. The general opinion is also developing and changing in my father’s generation with many more coming round to the idea that we need change and that there will be no greater chance of seizing that than on June 23rd.
An opportunity like this to influence significant change in the agricultural industry doesn’t arise very often. Yes, we can change our government every few years, but while we are in the EU there is little we can do to bring about the much-needed change in our sector. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Many farmers might be worried about trade with Europe, and that departure of the EU would damage the chances of the rest of Europe wanting to trade with us. But what many probably don’t understand is that we import much more from the EU then we currently export and, when it comes to it, I cannot see many countries turning round and saying 'no thanks, we won't trade with you guys anymore'. In the agricultural sector, the UK imports 2.5 times as much beef from the EU as we export there. Will the EU's beef farmers really be happy if their export market is decimated for the sake of a grudge? It is the same story in many other industries and quite frankly it's hard to see that happening.
Another fear factor for farmers voting out is the farm subsidies that we get from the CAP and some are nervous of whether a replacement UK agricultural policy would provide as much support. However, the current CAP ends in 2020. If we stay in the EU we are once again putting our trust in bureaucrats (who most likely don’t fully understand how the agricultural industry works in the UK) to come up with the new subsidy system and dictate how we can farm. The EU does not have a single agricultural industry which can be covered by one policy, it has 28 hugely diverse industries, each with very different climates, environments and sectors. My beef farm in Somerset is a far cry from a Mediterranean vineyard and both the opportunities and problems that we face are no doubt very different.
Yes, it might be scary leaving the EU to start off with. As an industry we might have some hard times, but that is the nature of farming and nothing that we can't handle. However, I strongly feel that in the long run it will benefit the industry. Imagine if we can have more control over our industry and influence the rules and regulations that affect us day-to-day. As it is now we have no say and of the 6 billion that the UK pays into the CAP we see less than half of that back. The rest goes to other countries and essentially subsidises our competitors.
It often feels that the current payment scheme is rewarding the absurd. If you have land sitting idle that’s fine - never mind about feeding a growing nation or doing something productive with it. It creates a generation of unimaginative farmers and I believe the younger generation would be be much better served by a different system or even no subsidies at all. I have personally experienced this whilst working in Australia and New Zealand and it is something we should view as an exciting opportunity. Being outside the EU would promote fresh ideas which would be a real boost to the industry.
If other farmers can honestly say that they are happy with the direction that UK agriculture is headed in then please tell me what it is that you guys are doing! Because, as I see, it we desperately need change and soon.
The only way we will get that change is to leave the EU, so lets take that leap!
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!