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There has been remarkably little light shed on what the future of UK agriculture together with its attendant industries might look like, following the decision by the UK’s voters to leave the European Union. The future of agriculture and the food and drink industries is said

to be classified as ‘high priority’ where the forthcoming negotiations are concerned, following the triggering, this month, of Article 50, which will formally initiate the process whereby the UK negotiates to leave the EU. Perhaps it is still too early for any definitive views on the future of agriculture which, by definition, has the potential significantly to impact upon the agricultural supply industry as a whole and the livestock feed industry in particular. In the absence of any pointers to that future, the field has been left open to those who envisage wholesale change to the way that the agricultural sector is structured and, in particular, how it is financed. One previously highly placed official, commenting recently on the

decision to leave the EU, has observed that a major factor underlying the decision to leave the EU was the Common Agricultural Policy and, specifically, the way it disbursed funds to those who, in the view of a large section of the voting public, were ‘undeserving’. Closely associated with this view was a visceral antipathy to ‘subsidies’ and it is true that a proportion of the funds disbursed as payments under the Single Payments Scheme and its successor appear to have ended up in the pockets of already well-remunerated individuals or corporations. Last year’s referendum did little to dispel the fog of misunderstanding regarding the functioning of the CAP. On the ‘Leave’ side, much store was set on the additional funds

potentially to be made available as a result of the UK’s departure from the EU which, the Leave campaign claimed, could be applied to the perennially cash-strapped NHS. On the ‘Remain’ side, apocalyptic predictions of economic melt-down were made which, being as yet unrealised, have brought the reputation of economic experts and, indeed, according to Michael Gove, all experts to a new all-time low. Concerns in the agricultural supply industry will have been

heightened by remarks made in the past by DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom to the effect that all farm subsidies should be abolished, as well as some sections of the media calling for free trade to be made the mainstay of the Governments post-Brexit economic policy. Free trade does have its attractions in the context of general economic policy; in particular, at least in theory, it ensures an optimum allocation of economic resources. Government has said that the existing level of


funding will be continued as regards farming in the UK until 2020; that timescale is presumably prognosticated upon the Brexit negotiations being complete and the UK’s exit from the EU being done and dusted. The much-maligned experts are, however, saying that the negotiations cannot possibly be completed within the two-year time scale envisaged by Article 50. It is to be hoped that contingency plans exist in the event of negotiations regarding the UK’s exit from the EU being incomplete. The agricultural supply trade including the UK livestock feed

industry has a significant and vested interest in the future shape of future British agricultural policy. A proportion of the funds disbursed to UK agriculture under the

CAP and its adjuncts will have ended up, however directly or indirectly, in the supply trade’s profit and loss account. That simple fact will colour the supply trade’s response to the debate on the post-Brexit shape of UK agriculture and it is a fact that should be plainly acknowledged. However, there are other factors that should influence the deliberations of the agricultural supply trade and, indeed, of a wider constituency. It has recently been pointed out that the food we eat is only 52 per cent provided by British farmers. This brings the security of supply argument to the fore. It is true that the Atlantic Ocean is no longer filled, as in 1917 and 1940, with marauding packs of U-boats threatening the UK’s food supply and sending the British hastening to their allotments. However, will the UK’s population be content to depend upon South America for its beef and North America for its wheat and other cereals, to say nothing of the other exotic food products to which the British palate has grown used over the last half-century? A further argument needing to be deployed more effectively

than has been the case so far is the effect of major potential changes in UK farm policy on the environment. It is a truism to say that the countryside matters, yet tourism counts and tourists bring income to rural areas. Much of the attractiveness of the British countryside is a by-product of agricultural activities. Greater reliance upon food imports and a consequent diminution of the volume of food produced by British farmers could lead to an encroaching desuetude of the UK’s agricultural base, together with a fall in rural incomes related directly and indirectly to a decline in the countryside’s underlying economic structure. These and other matters need to be brought into the debate.

Given the timescale, that need is urgent and it is good to know that the agricultural supply industry’s representatives have the process well in hand.

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