AHDB & NFU equip farmers for Brexit

Levy organisation the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) is rallying livestock farmers behind a campaign to future-proof them against the worst Brexit scenarios, in partnership with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). 

The two organisations have launched a regional Brexit roadshow for the agricultural community, geared at equipping them to prosper without EU Common Agricultural Policy payments.

The roadshow consists of 18 meetings across the UK, running from 18 October at the East of England Agricultural Society to 2 November at NFU Stoneleigh in the West Midlands.

The programme of events follows a series of Horizon reports AHDB has produced on the post-Brexit economic landscape, the latest of which, published earlier this month, is Brexit Scenarios: an impact assessment. This document, which precedes a similar paper focusing on Scotland, draws on extensive work with Agra CEAS Consulting.

The study looks at six aspects after Brexit: public support, the labour market, the trade relationship with the EU, the trade relationship with the rest of the world and the legal environment.

Each aspect is analysed against three possible Brexit outcomes: evolution, which assumes little change; unilateral liberalisation, which assumes a liberal approach to trading; and fortress UK. The latter assumes that trade only takes place under World Trade Organisation Most Favoured Nation tariffs.

In the report’s foreword, AHDB market insight director Phil Bicknell said: “This publication… will map out the range of possible post-Brexit situations and quantify their impact on UK farming. This information has so far been lacking from the post-referendum debate and is crucial to help our levy payers prepare for Brexit.”

The study has found that reduced support will hit business profits dramatically and immediately, and that, in sectors such as pigs and dairy, farmers may benefit from rising prices caused by rising trade costs. In addition, in sectors such as sheepmeat, where the costs of trade into the EU could rise, this could cut farmgate prices, reducing farm incomes.

Two further findings were that higher labour costs resulting from restricted access to migrant workers could cut farm incomes and that the highest performing farms, the top 25%, will remain profitable, regardless of Brexit’s outcome.

That, in turn, highlighted how vital it was for farmers to learn from the top performers in their sectors, AHDB chief executive Jane King told Meat Trades Journal.

She said the food industry had to unite to communicate common concerns and discuss common strategy, rather than remaining in ghettos, with different groups lobbying government separately. “We want to get industry ready for Brexit; we don’t want it sleepwalking into it. You can prepare for the worst if you know what you’re up against.”

This theme was informing broader work by the organisation aimed at helping livestock and arable farmers lift competitiveness and sustainability, she added. “That’s about helping farmers to see this is a rapidly changing world and we have got to change with it. We are helping them to look at things with a little more scrutiny, seeing where they are good and where they are less good.”

A separate example of this work is the roll-out of AHDB’s online benchmarking tool Farmbench, which invites farmers to enter production costs for particular enterprises or whole farms and compare costs.

The initiative is designed to encourage better performance measurement and AHDB is making it accessible to beef, sheep, potato and arable farmers. Dairy farmers are next on the list to be included in 2018.

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