It is probably the biggest seismic change in UK recent history and “for agriculture, it is enormous”, Jones said at the 20th anniversary dinner of The Food Club in London last month.
“Interestingly, farmers are really upbeat, they are saying ‘bring it on’, we are the best in the world and we think we can deal with this challenge’,” said Jones.
“But when you start to drill into this and start to look at what we need to do, it gets a bit more tricky.”
As well as concerns about trade and access to labour from the EU, the NFU – while recognising the deficiencies of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – is also concerned about what the UK government might do to replace, for example, the £2bn in direct payments and £660M in agri-environmental schemes that English farmers receive from the EU.
“All bets are off,” he remarked. But questions remain. “How much money should agriculture get? What should that money be spent on? And what other public good could UK agriculture deliver for this country?” he asked. “But the great opportunity is how the whole food industry can come together.”
‘All bets are off’
The most likely trade model adopted outside the EU would be a “bespoke” one, Jones suggested.
“I think we are probably going to have something that is tailored to the UK. Of course, at the same time, there is always tension with access to labour.”
Jones reported that there were about 30,000 non-UK born permanent workers in agriculture and horticulture, of which 74% of these were born in the EU.
On top of this, the NFU estimates there are another 67,000 temporary workers in agriculture and horticulture that weren’t born in the UK.
“But even before we have left, we are already starting to have problems with labour availability,” he said – particularly in areas such as soft fruit picking and packing.
‘Problems with labour availability’
“We need to establish a stable policy for the long-term, we need to give farmers the best possible access to the market inside and outside the EU, and we need to protect farmers and consumers from imports not produced to the same high standards as our own,” said Jones.
“Also, we need to ensure farmers and growers have sufficient supplies of labour.”
Jones drew attention to the consultation exercise the NFU was currently undertaking with its 55,000 members, covering trade and access to EU markets, access to labour and what a domestic agricultural policy should look like.
The Food Club meets monthly in London to provide a meeting place for food industry professionals, enabling them to share information.
Its next meeting, will be on October 6 at Waitrose’s South Harrow branch. For details contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.