A new report from an academic at the University of Warwick has said the future of the UK farming sector could be uncertain following a potential exit from Europe.
Professor Wyn Grant from the University of Warwick has produced the report on behalf of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to look at the impact a so-called Brexit would have on the single farm payment, regulation, plant protection, world trade, animal health and welfare and migrant labour.
He and the working group behind the report have said they hope that its findings will help the debate on key farming issues that will be affected by an in-out referendum on EU membership, which the Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged will take place before the end of 2017.
Discussing the report’s main findings, Professor Grant said it was hard to see any advantage to British farmers in leaving the EU.
He said that in the event of a “yes” vote, the lack of contingency planning by the government would inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty, which could last up to two years as the government attempted to create a new agricultural regime.
He pointed out that this would make medium and long-term planning for farmers extremely difficult, particularly when it came to the hot topic of subsidies, many of which would be lost if the UK left the EU.
Against a backdrop of falling farm incomes, subsidies can make the difference between running at a profit or a loss. Without these payments the future of many farm businesses would be in jeopardy, warned Professor Grant.
“There is a perception in the industry that leaving the EU would reduce the burden of regulation. I do not think there will be a bonfire of regulations… There are legal complexities which have not been considered,” said Professor Grant.
Prof Grant said that in an ‘independent ‘Britain powerful and influential lobby groups would have a louder voice in a smaller arena, but added that British farmers would no longer have a large pool of European counterparts to rely on for support.
He added that as EU countries are the export destination for the majority of British goods, the country’s farmers would still have to abide by EU regulations if they wanted to sell their produce on the continent.
The likely introduction of import tariffs on British goods and border controls would also have an impact, Prof Grant added, making British goods more expensive and therefore less appealing to European customers.
Nigel Pulling, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society said: “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.
“A real concern is that in any negotiations, agriculture would suffer against other sectors such as financial services and the pharmaceutical industry which make a greater contribution to the UK’s GDP, but what could be more important than the food we eat.”