Friday Focus: How will Brexit affect Lincolnshire farmers?

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The dust has far from settled following the EU referendum and the government has started to outline the direction that Brexit negotiations will take. But how will the Lincolnshire farming industry be impacted?

The industry has both pros and cons ahead of it as the weaker pound provides a higher Basic Payment Scheme but more restrictions on immigration could cause difficulties in attracting labour.

NFU’s county adviser for Lincolnshire Andrew Wilson

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) county adviser for Lincolnshire Andrew Wilson warned that food and farming will be “by far the most affected” industry in the UK.

He told Lincolnshire Business: “The three key issues for farming and horticulture in Lincolnshire are trade, labour and the future support mechanisms for the industry: a domestic agriculture polity.”

Deal or no deal

With much to consider, trade negotiations are at the top of the list for both imports and exports as, at present, the EU is the UK’s major trading partner.

Andrew continued: “Trade is going to be an interesting challenge. Some 75% of UK food exports are sold to Europe and we rely on over £39.6 billion worth of food imports.”

Despite the Prime Minister’s speech to confirm her 12-point plan for Brexit, questions still go unanswered within the farming industry and in some cases more have arisen.

“Imports are currently ‘tariff free’ and there are no barriers to trade, but what will happen in future?” asks Andrew.

“If we set up trading relationships with non-EU countries, will that imported food be produced to the same high standards as UK farmers and growers currently do?”

Migrant labour

Fears have surfaced previously over a growing labour gap, filled in many instance by migrant workers from EU countries. The demand for seasonal agriculture workers is anticipated to rise to 95,000 by 2020 nationally.

Andrew added: “Without access to these workers, much of the food chain would not work and production would shift abroad to countries where labour is more plentiful and production standards are lower.”

James Truscott, Managing Director of Branston Ltd. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

James Truscott, Managing Director of potato growers Branston Ltd, said: “The main concern for us, along with most UK food manufacturers is that a proportion of our people are from countries in the EU.

“It’s likely that we’ll lose some valued members of our team as they choose to leave the UK and we’re already seeing a reduction in the number of flexible workers that are available.

“It’s vital for UK fresh produce suppliers throughout the chain to be allowed access to workers from the EU, not only to accommodate seasonal peaks and troughs but also to provide vital skills and experience for the long-term.

“On the positive side Brexit could provide greater opportunities for growing and buying British, with consumer interest coupled with a commercial imperative for many manufacturers to focus on UK-based production.”

‘Brexit means opportunities’

Tom Wells, county chairman for Lincolnshire Federation of Young Farmers

Countering concerns over trade and labour, some in the farming industry are arguing that Brexit is an opportunity to create new British brands.

Tom Wells, county chairman for the Lincolnshire Federation of Young Farmers, said: “Brexit has a lot of opportunities, so my main concern will be getting the right opportunities and not seeing agriculture used as a negotiating pawn for other industries.

“Good trade deals, getting the right tariffs for trade and not disadvantaging UK farmers should be at the top of the list.

“The multi-lateral free trade agreement across the EU has worked well and I think there is also scope now for new bilateral agreements with other countries.

“We must ensure though that we recognise not all countries have the same standards of animal welfare, human rights and traceability as we do and that comes at a cost which should not leave UK farmers disadvantaged.”