UK farmers increasingly worried about Brexit

Despite having widely supported leaving the EU, British farmers are showing a loss of confidence in the sector’s future post-Brexit, an NFU survey finds.

The confidence of British farmers in the UK’s agriculture sector has dropped significantly as they consider a post-Brexit future, a recent National Farmers’ Union survey has revealed.

NFU president Meurig Raymond described the findings as ‘unnerving’, given that farmers have maintained a fairly resilient and optimistic outlook in the past.

The survey, which was published on Monday, showed farmers’ confidence had dropped 18 points since April 2015, from positive 19 to positive 1 (zero being neutral). The NFU polls its members at regular six-month intervals on a scale of 0-100 positive and 0-100 negative.

Farmers’ confidence was low for the three-year outlook, but remained positive for the short-term (one-year outlook) at 17 points.

“The outlook from farmers is positive for the next 12 months due to the weak Sterling, but we all know farming businesses are long-term and cannot rely on currency fluctuations,” Raymond said in a statement, explaining the discrepancy between the medium- and short-term results.

Consequently, farmers’ less than optimistic outlook for the next three years was also reflected in their plans for future investments, with 20.1 percent of those surveyed saying they would be decreasing investments as a result of the EU referendum, while only 10.7 percent planned on increasing investment in the next 12 months.

“Farmer confidence is absolutely critical to the future of a profitable and productive food and farming sector,” the NFU’s president said. “In such a period of uncertainty politically, we need politicians to fully understand the impact this lack of clarity is having economically.”

The union is calling on the new government that will be elected later this week to provide the agricultural sector with “as many assurances as possible” regarding access to the necessary workforce, an appropriate domestic agricultural policy and “the right trade deals.”

In a policy paper updated last month, the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) has included issues such as securing EU nationals’ rights in the UK and ensuring new trade agreements with other countries among its priorities.

According to the British tax authority, HM Revenue & Customs, UK exports of agriculture, fisheries and food products to the EU were £11 billion ($14.2 billion; €12.6 billion) in 2015, while imports were £28 billion with over 70 percent coming from other EU member states. “This underlines the UK and EU’s mutual interest in ensuring continued high levels of market access in future,” the DExEU wrote in its policy paper, “The United Kingdom’s exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union.”

Ensuring EU nationals’ rights in the UK are protected is also important to the £108 billion agricultural sector, given that British farmers rely on a seasonal migrant workforce. According to the Office for National Statistics, 34,513 non UK-born workers were employed in the sector in 2014, of which 65 percent were born in the EU. However, the ONS data does not include foreign workers who are in the UK temporarily and return home after a few months.

NFU said it will be working closely with the newly-elected team at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “to ensure that investment is a key part of a new domestic agricultural policy.”