Like many single issues when applied to the (still) hypothetical world of a post-Brexit UK, much is still uncertain regarding the implications for the farming and agriculture industries.
Much depends on the speed in which Article 50 is activated, and membership of the European market is cancelled – with the common consensus being anywhere between 2 – 4 years.
In that time, EU subsidies will still be paid to agricultural entities and farmers, but it could take up to 7 years to renegotiate new international trade deals. Here is what we do know:
At present the agriculture industries benefit to the tune of £2.4bn from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), although the UK currently pays in nearly £10bn per year, which the pro-Leave campaign say, benefits only competitor markets; the ‘Leave’ camp also claim the amount that goes to farmers from the common fund will be matched should the UK leave the EU.
The CAP was designed to boost production and help decrease the import of food products, but it has become synonymous with images of wines lakes and butter mountains, which were the result of overproduction in the 1980s.
Now it provides a lifeline to many farmers, particularly livestock farmers, as the supermarket chains have driven down costs: a litre of milk, which costs 29 pence to produce, is sold on average at 25p to the large chains. DEFRA figures for 2013 show 20% of all livestock and grain farms were not profitable.
For smaller farms and concerns it is estimated that the CAP accounts for anywhere between 55%-100% of income, and it is estimated that only 10% of the wealthiest farmers would survive. Even the wealthiest benefit from the CAP, however: the Duke of Westminster and The Queen both made £750,000 and £415,000 respectively from their estates – which has highlighted the inequality of the scheme.
In a post-Brexit UK, there is the possibility of depressed land prices, and smaller concerns going under, which would allow larger producers to buy up cheap land and narrow the competition in the market.
A loss of EU environmental directives would also have a profound impact on the country, should farming methods further expand and intensify, and for potential impacts on the environment. Air pollution levels and water quality are part of the membership agreement, and use of pesticides and other treatments for farming and food are also legislated by Brussels.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has come out recently in support of the ‘Remain’ campaign, stating that ‘an overwhelming majority of its members’ are in favour of remaining in the EU market, giving farmers access to 500 million people. For many agricultural workers and producers, as in many other industries, the post-Brexit unknown remains unthinkable.