From the British Agricultural Revolution to foot and mouth disease, the Great Depression of British Agriculture to Brexit, British farming has not been without its problems. History suggests that the increasing threat of imported food since the 1800s signifies the impending end to British farming, but it is Brexit’s uncertainty that’s casting a darkening shadow on farming businesses county-wide. So is it really all doom and gloom?
In the decade or so before Brexit, British farmers in general have introduced remarkable new technology to their estates. What might well be perceived as a traditional industry is, in fact, reliant on cutting-edge (and very expensive) technology. Never before has there been such a drive on sustainable farming focused on biodiversity, the natural environment and the proper welfare and treatment of animals and this is shaped by the technology in operation.
Conservationists and the general public are also being appeased, as farmers are now using more accurate fertiliser systems, seed drills, and minimum or no-till operation to retain soil quality. New technology to improve animal welfare is also being implemented from internet-based precision tracking and monitoring to virtual fencing and better capabilities in selective breeding.
The implications of Brexit
However, with Britain’s vote to leave the EU, fresh doubt has been cast on the industry. Whilst agricultural workers know change is inevitable, businesses cannot fully predict the scale of the resulting change and what problems they will face going forward.
Farmers are considering a wide range of possibilities and strategies. Whilst some are implementing new technology to push biodiversity and sustainability, several top livestock farmers in Yorkshire have since quit amid the unease. A recent study reported that 71% of British farmers were positive about their business prospects, but that figure falls to 37% when the same farmers considered their prospects post-Brexit. Another study found that around 430 of the 1800 farming firms in Yorkshire have a high risk of insolvency.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, seems to have emphasised the importance of British farmers in many of his speeches since assuming office. Yet much like Brexit, Gove has split opinion in the agriculture sector. Plans to continue with the EU-based Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) until 2022 have given farmers hope, safe (for now) in the knowledge that they will have a transition period post-Brexit. Given that farming generally has been on the decline, and that farmers arguably undergo more work for less profits, their tenacity to survive is a tribute to the sector.
What comes next?
Plans to pay farmers not on the size of their estate but on the ‘public good’ their estate provides are now concrete. Whilst the term ‘public good’ seems loose-fitting, what seems certain is the government’s attempt to reward those farming firms which conserve the natural world and improve animal welfare in the industry.
Whilst the future may be uncertain for the agriculture sector, then, what remains is the infrastructure to handle various eventualities and an ardent desire to preserve the environment for future generations.
If you own a farm estate, farming equipment, properties and/or employ staff, speak with one of our members of staff today.