Up to this point, Brexit is turning out to be an unmitigated disaster for production agriculture in the UK.
And I sense that many farmers, particularly in England, Scotland and Wales, are now deeply regretting the decision to leave the European Union (EU).
And why should this be the case?
Well, let’s see – the coming year will see farmers in England and Wales losing their single farm payment. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has managed to sign free trade deals with two of the world’s food superpowers.
Adding to farmer frustration is the fact that Westminster has done nothing to help farmers cope with the merciless increase in feed, fertiliser and fuel costs that has impacted on every farm business over recent months.
Brexit was sold to the British public as this wonderful opportunity to regain full sovereignty from Europe.
But, from an agricultural perspective, this ‘freedom’ has resulted in almost every support plank being removed from the industry and farmers left exposed to a future of cheap imports from the likes of New Zealand and Australia.
Indigenous food security now means very little in the UK. And, as a result, farmers have been left with their futures hanging on the whim of consumers.
So here’s the real question – when the economic going gets tough, do mothers with young children opt for the cheapest foods available or will they pay that bit extra for what is produced on their own doorsteps?
I sense the answer to that question is pretty obvious.
Food prices and EU support
The only good news for UK farmers over recent years is the fact that food prices have held up pretty well in the shops.
Covid-19 saw to that and the ongoing unrest in Ukraine will serve to keep retail food prices high for the foreseeable future. But circumstances change. And when the food price indices start to fall, as they will at some future stage, what state will British farming be left in then?
The word precarious comes to mind in this context.
Meanwhile, the EU may not be the fastest organisation to react in changing times, but the fact remains that Europe truly recognises the importance of farming in so many different ways.
Last week’s decision by Brussels to offer farmers across Europe each a €15,000 lump sum payment, in light of the input cost crisis they are now facing, is a case in point.
Mind you, I thought the response of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) to the announcement was farcical.
Querying the source of the money, I would suggest, should not be a core concern at this point.
Back in the day when the ‘oul fella’ gave me the odd bit of required pecuniary support, I never queried the state of his personal finances; I simply said ‘thank you’ and went on my way.
From what I am hearing, the EU will be a major player in backing the €500 billion required to rebuild Ukraine (and rightly so). So, no shortage of ‘dosh’ there then.