Healthier, wealthier Britain: farming success post-Brexit

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Meurig Raymond has outlined free trade, labour and a new agricultural policy as the “main ingredients” for a buoyant post-Brexit rural economy. 

Unfettered access to the single market, continued availability of staff and a new agricultural policy, building a productive, progressive and profitable sector, are key to success, Raymond said.

Addressing 1,000 farmers and Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) at the NFU Conference, Raymond (pictured above) warned no deal on Brexit was worse than a “bad deal”. Prime Minister Theresa May has previously said no deal on Brexit is better than a bad deal.

“We must not be placed in a worse position than the rest of Europe,” said Raymond.

“We need to remember that the rest of Europe will still be supporting its farmers. Government should not do anything which will make our own farming industry unable to compete with the rest of Europe.”

Andrea Leadsom said the government was actively targeting free trade deals and while this was praised by Raymond, he warned food quality could be jeopardised.

“Would the public want us to start importing beef produced using growth-promoting hormones? Or chickens dipped in chlorine,” he said, to a round of applause.

Any trade deal, Raymond said, must meet the high food standards producers in the UK adhere to.

The second vital ingredient to success is people. By 2021, the food industry may need to employ up to 95,000 workers on a seasonal basis and restrictions on freedom of movement in Europe presented a “serious challenge”, he said.

On a new agricultural policy, the NFU wants to see any statute underpinned by three pillars: a policy that enhances productivity and competitiveness; one that rewards farmers for environmental work; and a policy that mitigates effects of volatility.

The government did not provide any detail on what Brexit means for a farming industry, which contributes close to £110bn to the economy annually.

“I don’t have final answers today [on Brexit],” Leadsom said in a speech.

Opposition parties criticised the Conservative government minister’s lack of clarity on Brexit after her NFU address.

“Eight months on since the referendum, and still this government is failing to provide farmers with the clarity they need on Brexit,” said Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Kate Parminter.

“At the moment we face a real risk of crashing out of the Single Market without any transitional arrangements, which would be an unmitigated disaster for the UK’s farming sector.”

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