Yorkshire’s farmers face a “leap into the dark” should Britain vote to leave the EU, with major concerns about support, regulation and future food security.
The Farmer-Scientist Network has outlined the practical implications for farmers of both leaving and staying within Europe in a new report to be launched by Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) next month.
It addresses what the agricultural landscape could look like should Britain say ‘yes’ in the upcoming EU membership referendum.
Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the YAS, which hosts the Farmer-Scientist Network, said: “The situation at the moment is quite simple. While there is some dissatisfaction with Europe, there is at least certainty.
“What this report has highlighted is the complexity of the number of different issues we are facing - but the Government hasn’t filled in any of the blanks. It’s a leap into the dark.
“The real concern is that agriculture will suffer in comparison to other industries.”
One of the main concerns is EU support, in particular the Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 CAP subsidies, would be under threat. The report’s author, Prof Wyn Grant of the University of Warwick, said these payments “can make the difference between a farm being viable or not.”
Richard Findlay, a member of the network who farms in the heart of the North York Moors near Whitby, said the public were unaware of the impact leaving the EU would have on farming - and on food security.
He highlighted comments by Environment Secretary Liz Truss at Oxford Farming Conference earlier this month, when she admitted there was no ‘Plan B’ for farming should Britain leave Europe.
He said: “The Government made a commitment to have a referendum and we would have hoped they would have a bit of a plan to address it - but all we have seen in the press is about how it might affect the number of migrants and whether they will get benefits.
“Farming is the largest manufacturer in the county, we export grain, lambs, all sorts of things. We fear that farming would be the sacrificial lamb in Government negotiations for free trade.
“In most countries where there is not direct agricultural support, food is more expensive. The misconception is that it is a farming subsidy, it’s not, it subsidises the cost of food on the shelves. Every person in the country has to eat and food security should be higher on the agenda. ”
Concerns regarding regulatory change on topics such animal health and welfare, plant protection and genetically modified organisms are also raised in the report.
Prof Grant said: “We would have to put something there in place but the question is, what would that be? A lot of these regulations are quite onerous, and some farmers feel there would be a bonfire of these regulations should we leave, but I don’t think that would be the case. There are legal complexities that have not been considered.”
The report also address the impact on migrant labour, crucial to the horticulture and dairy sectors.
While the impact on Yorkshire farmers might be negligible, across the country, having limits on EU workers would hit the industry.
Exporting abroad and market access is another key concern.
Former Great Yorkshire Show director Bill Cowling, who has a 600 acre beef and sheep farm at Burn Bridge, near Harrogate, said although the majority of his sheep are not exported, the export price governed what he got in the UK, and stepping away from the EU would open up the country to imports from the rest of the world.
“A major worry is that if we are not in the EU it would open up the import possibilities to South America, particularly the beef market,” he said. “But the main cause for concern is the single farm payment. Most farmers are now fairly comfortable with the level of bureaucracy, but this will change again.”