Lincolnshire's farmers braced for 'carnage' as Brexit threatens crucial trade deals

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 27 Jan 2017

LINCOLNSHIRE'S farmers are bracing themselves for "carnage" as Brexit promises to yield the "biggest change in a generation" for the region's farming industry.

With Theresa May set to trigger Article 50 in March - signaling the start of the end of Britain's EU membership - farmers in our area are apparently facing "an uncertain future" which could see a so-called 'hard Brexit' jeopardise farmers' relationship with their biggest market.

A hard Brexit would see the Government sacrifice the UK's membership of the single market and customs union in order to bring an end to freedom of movement, if a "fair deal" cannot be struck up by the Prime Minister at the negotiating table with the EU.

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This would mean walking away from existing trade deals, which currently see 72 per cent of Britain's agricultural exports shipped to European countries, which includes £290 million worth of Britain's £300 million lamb sales and 78 per cent of British wheat and barley exports.

The owner of Lincolnshire Wolds based farm, AW Smith and Sons, John Smith, is one of the hundreds nationwide who farms cereals like wheat and barley, and he says he is "apprehensive" about what the future holds with the industry now in "no-man's land" until it is clear what sort of breakaway deal the government agrees on.

John, whose farming business has been in his family since the wartime era when his grandfather set it up in Staffordshire before moving to Lincolnshire in 1946, says that the industry must brace itself for a wide-scale "restructure".

He said: "We have established a system where we produce good quality food, lots of food that is produced to a high standard. But we have already seen price increases and that will lead to inflation.

"The big concern is that we lose our support structure which the industry is built on. If the structure is lost it will be carnage whilst we restructure.

"We will see farms getting bigger to drive down the cost of production but it could also see welfare standards backtrack and standards drop.

"The big question is what the consumer really wants. Costs will have to be cut and with that comes sacrifices."

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The support structure on which Britain's farming industry is built that John speaks of, is mainly thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and is the agricultural policy of the European Union.

It implements a system of agricultural subsidies and payments to farmers in EU and when introduced, yielded the end of tariffs on agricultural products as part of building a common market and creating a level playing field for EU members.

But, since last June's landmark Brexit referendum vote, it has already been announced that Britain will exit the CAP agreement by 2020, a move that could see British farmers lose out on money and trade.

That's according to the National Farmers Union's (NFU) Lincolnshire representative, Andrew Wilson.

He said: "The level of support farmers will get after 2020 is completely unknown. It will no longer be a level playing field and we could lose our biggest market.

"Without the support, farming could become non-profitable but we have to do it because the country needs food. Farming underpins the food and drink industry so without farming you lose the whole industry."

But Andrew has confirmed that the NFU are currently engaged in "top-level" talks with the government to ensure that the agricultural industry comes out on top in post-Brexit Britain.

The hope is that farmers will have the best possible access to trade with Europe, the government will allow for farmers to be profitable and productive and for any changes to be subject to a period of transition to allow the industry to adapt.

If not, it is feared that the family-run farming businesses that form the basis of British farming could be crushed by the pressure.

Andrew added: "It is our role to stand up for farmers in Lincolnshire. I'm not saying I am confident but we will put our case forward.

"As a union we have made special arrangements to focus efforts on Brexit. We also see this as an opportunity to break free from restrictive regulations.

"No one really knows what the future looks like but we will work hard to get the best possible deal.

"The worst case scenario is that we end up with having to pay tariffs to trade with Europe. We really want a healthy relationship so that the UK can move food around the world, not just Europe."

John, who is also the proud owner of Louth Tractors, based at Louth's Fairfield Industrial Estate, is also hopeful that the farming industry can capitalise on potential opportunities that arise from Brexit, including striking up new trade deals.

He said: "Which ever way it goes it really is a huge opportunity."We want to come out of this better than the EU, and in a stronger position than our European competitors.

"But from 2020 it's up to the UK government to support farming independently.

"I'm always confident. If I wasn't I wouldn't be in business but it is tainted with apprehension.

"This is the biggest change that I have seen in my career."

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