How Brexit will endanger Kent’s farms and countryside

A study of the impact to be expected from Brexit on our county’s agriculture and forestry.

Compiled by: Alan Bullion, Adrian Ekins-Daukes, Richard Wassell, Roger Walshe, all from West Kent European Movement.

Supplies – Farm input costs have already seen an overall increase of 5% since the June 2016 EU referendum, according to UK farm ministry DEFRA.

Much of the fertilisers that our farmers use are imported from within the EU, so would become more costly, by as much as 25%. The same is true of certain types of farm machinery.

There is a (little publicised) shortage of timber in Kent as we approach the opening of the important biomass plant at Sandwich, due to the shortage of trained foresters to carry out the traditional coppicing used in our local broadleaf woods.

Efforts to rebuild the supply of foresters was attempted a few years back by a local charitable body, Kent Woodland Employment Scheme, but Regional Development funding for such apprenticeship schemes has died away so the operation is at present ’on hold’.

Labour – potential loss of most seasonal fruit pickers and as much as 90% of abattoir workers in the county. Statistically there are only 17,000 permanent workers in Kent’s farming industry; the bulk of seasonal work is employing EU workers, although already fewer now want to stay here due to the lower value of the pound, resulting in a shortage of 29% in seasonal workers and many tonnes of fruit left rotting in the fields last autumn.

The NFU want to ensure access to a ‘competent and reliable workforce’ which can only be achieved through continued free movement across European borders. Chapel Down, the important Kentish winemaker says: ‘Kent has had East Europeans picking fruit in recent years, but we must all starve if the labour issue is not sorted out’.

It is worth noting that Kent brewer Shepherd Neame have increased sales of beer to Poland as a result of returning Polish workers – this would also be at risk.

Logistics – of necessity a high proportion of agricultural produce has to be properly checked and verified to pass through frontiers of the EU from outside the Single Market and Customs Union. This would create lengthy delays in transportation which would endanger export consignments of perishable goods. What is especially worrying for exports will be the inevitable increase in customs documentation and verification at Dover, Ramsgate and other ports, which would result in very long queues of lorries and possible delays in shipments of perishable foodstuffs.

Trading – Food prices – We are already seeing the higher prices for food in the shops, partly due to the effect of the lower value of the pound for imported produce but also affected by the increasing costs of production here which will inevitably multiply following Brexit. This is why the NFU wants tariff-free access to the Single Market for our exports of food, supported by access to the EU workforce to back up our supplies.

If the UK was left outside the Customs Union and Single Market, Kentish farms would face EU tariffs of 17.7% for meat and 42.1% for dairy products if they were to maintain any export business. This would seriously impair Kentish businesses such as JFM Fruits and Rodanto both of whose wholesale trading depends on smooth tariff –free movements of fruits and juices across European frontiers.

Food Quality – At present our farms maintain the same high quality standards that are required across the EU. If Brexit goes ahead there would be a serious risk that irresponsible politicians could seek to relax those standards in order to fix a trade deal with the USA by allowing in food to their inferior standards. Kentish farmers would then be forced either to battle against cheaper but lower standard imports from America or to reduce their own standards to try to compete.

Farms & Countryside – The cumulative effect eventually of Brexit is estimated to reduce the average farm income from £38,000 to £15,000. Contributing to this would be the loss of the financial input from the CAP; according to DEFRA it totalled £45m. during 2015/16.

So far all we know about intentions for English agricultural support is that it is likely to focus on environmental performance, which implies much increased levels of inspection and red tape compared with the CAP.

As the CPRE asks: How will the countryside look if we lose the number and diversity of farms, so much a part of its character?

action@sevenoakslibdems.org.uk

About Alan Bullion

Alan Bullion is Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesman for Sevenoaks and Swanley
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