What would a no-deal Brexit mean for St Albans farmers?

What will a no-deal Brexit mean for St Albans farmers? We asked their views.

What will a no-deal Brexit mean for St Albans farmers? We asked their views. - Credit: Archant

District farmers have reacted to a new report which forecasts that crashing out of the EU could cost the UK’s farming industry £850m a year in lost income.

The Andersons Centre, which provides business, research and economic advice for farmers, claims Brexit could leave some farms struggling to survive unless government support is significantly increased.

Under a no-deal Brexit, farmers would have to pay tariffs on produce exported to the EU for the first time.

In such a scenario, it is speculated that European consumers will rapidly switch to suppliers from other countries rather than paying more for British meat.

Farmers have told the government that 40 per cent tariffs on meat exported to the EU could lead to a mass slaughter of sheep, according to The Guardian.

The report said that across the sector as a whole, farming income would drop by 18 per cent as a result of a no-deal Brexit.

Will Dickinson of Cross Farm said: "All the evidence I have seen suggests it is going to be particularly disastrous but I hope that is not the case. I am very worried about the tariff that is being introduced.

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"It will affect my profit margins. If the cost goes up then my profit goes down."

Will, whose farm produces cereal, added: "There is going to be a cereals tariff - so us producing wheat and sending it to Europe will cost us about 90 euros a tonne."

Will said that he cannot see it affecting the quality of the produce, just reducing the money farmers can make, which is already not a huge amount.

Jamie Burrows of Sandridgebury Farm said: "Farming operates with long term business plans - our crop rotations can be up to seven years long and we invest in high value equipment to operate more efficiently and sustainably.

"The uncertainty only brings short-termism. It is difficult to plan ahead. We want to invest but can't until we know what is happening with trade deals, tariffs and items such as the Agriculture Bill - which is still on hold since last November. A few years ago I knew pretty much where I hoped my business would be, with regards to size, employees, turnover. Now, it's very difficult to tell."

The research issued a stark warning of the challenges posed by a no-deal Brexit, claiming it would be greater than the BSE (mad cow disease) and foot-and-mouth crises.

Ian Pigott of Thrales End Farm in Harpenden said: "It is my concern that a lot of farms may go out of business in the vent of a no-deal Brexit.

"This may be compounded by the removal or reduction of government support under the new Agriculture Bill.

"The raw truth is there will be no room for mediocrity. Unless you excel in whatever type of farming it is, you will struggle to survive."

However, Daniel Mackay of Symonshyde Farm said: "I think in the long it will be fine and I think we should just get on with it.

"I think it is fear of the unknown and I don't think it will be as bad as people imagine.

"I hope we will find a deal with the EU but if we find a way. We will export our sheep somewhere else if necessary."

Yet county advisor for Herts National Farmers' Union Rosalind David wasn't convinced: "The NFU believes that a disorderly Brexit would have severe impacts, not just on farm businesses and fragile rural economies, but on the wider food industry and the entire UK public who enjoy and rely on a safe and affordable domestic supply of high quality food.

"While the precise impact can never be predicted with complete accuracy, it is clear to us that for food and farming, and more broadly for our natural environment and rural communities, there are serious implications of a no-deal Brexit."

Green Party MEP Catherine Rowett, representing the east of England, has been trying to bring about change.

She said: "British farming is likely to feel the brunt of Brexit and will be one of the most worst affected sectors, especially if we crash out without a deal.

"I fear a scenario where farms go out of business through no fault of their own or farmers are forced to adopt much lower standards of animal husbandry simply to survive. I and my Green Party colleagues in European Parliament have made it clear that we would like to see major reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, but we feel strongly that it is in the best interests of British farmers that we stay in the EU, something which this report seems to confirm."

A report by Food Research Collaboration in which experts take stock of 'food Brexit' says that a hard Brexit or no-deal Brexit would imperil the sustainability and security of Britain's food supply.