Frictionless trade, access to labour and a domestic agricultural policy will be crucial as the United Kingdom starts negotiations to leave the European Union, the head of the nation’s farmers lobby said.
Addressing Cereals 2017 – the UK’s largest field days – Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union, said political dynamics had changed dramatically.
The field days took place days after the shock UK election result which resulted in a hung parliament. Incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May was confirmed Prime Minister on June 30, after support from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and avoiding a last minute leadership challenge.
“It’s going to need consular politics between government, opposition and around the cabinet table,” Mr Raymond said.
“Other organisations are starting to argue same trade - frictionless trade.”
Mr Raymond said agriculture was the “biggest industry” in the UK.
“It’s an industry from the people who supply us from farmers to processors to retail,” Mr Raymond said.
“An industry that is worth 180 billlion pounds and employs 3.9 million people.
“They want to see a trade deal without trade barriers. Trade is going to be the top issue.”
Mr Raymond, who speaks on behalf of the NFU’s 55,000 farmers across England and Wales, said the domestic market would be very important to the industry.
“If we end up with a fair trade deal then I believe we can look forward in a very positive manner and look towards developing an ambitious domestic agricultural policy,” Mr Raymond said.
“If we get a very bad trade deal with tariffs and cliff edge then I believe we will need a fair bit of support to sustain an industry.”
Subsidies are one of the most controversial topics in the Brexit debate.
UK farmers currently receive a subsidy per hectare but Mr Raymond said the majority of the farmers he had spoken to would “rather earn their income in the marketplace than from some support”.
“Sadly we are a long way from the position where people can be confident and profitable and invest into their business without having a level of support,” Mr Raymond said.
“That support will continue until 2020 and the clock is ticking.
“This will give us an opportunity.
“This industry is in desperate need of investment into its sector.
“A lot of farms’ infrastructure was built in the 1980s and 90s so we need confidence and signals from government that we can go out and be world beating.
“There needs to be that direction and support to make us innovative, competitive and profitable as well, to increase our productivity.”
Mr Raymond said a “transitional period” would be needed.
“If we can have a fair trade deal and can have ambition to invest into the industry to deliver what society needs – quality food that is produced on village farms,” Mr Raymond said.
Queensland Country Life journalist Lea Coghlan attended Cereals 2017 as a guest of Syngenta.