Post Brexit changes linked to ‘collapse in confidence’ for UK farmers in food security crisis

A combination of 18 months of bad weather, Brexit and other international events have left confidence in British farming at an all-time low, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has revealed.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw has warned that the collapse in confidence has seen 7,000 agricultural businesses close down since 2019 and is now imperilling food security in Britain.

The NFU’s annual Farmer Confidence Survey was taken between November 2023 and January this year, and Mr Bradshaw noted that if it had been taken today the word “crisis” would need to be added.

He described a “perfect storm” including volatility caused by the war in Ukraine and the effects of covid. While he did not mention Brexit by name Mr Bradshaw listed a number of post-Brexit changes including to the subsidy regime and new international trade deals.

Food security could become a problem in the UK (PA)
Food security could become a problem in the UK (PA)

The NFU president blamed 18 months of unusually wet weather for much of the difficulties but also listed a number of problems caused by Brexit, including the Australia and New Zealand trade deals which come with a competitive disadvantage for the UK because of Britain’s higher standards.

However, top of the list of concerns was the phasing out of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), the continuation of the EU subsidy which had supported farms around the UK.

The survey showed that this was the number one issue for farmers with 86 percent naming it as a serious concern.

BPS is being replaced by the Environmental Land Management Scheme but payments have dropped by 50 percent at a time when farmers are having to borrow more.

Mr Bradshaw said: “We have been clear as the NFU for some time of our concern that the move away from the BPS to the public money for public good, while very well-intentioned, has taken food production for granted.

“Our concern is that if members don’t have confidence then we as a country can’t deliver food security. We have all political parties say that food security is national security. If they really mean these words they need to ask themselves what actions they need to take to rebuild farmer confidence.”

He warned “believing we can import our way out of this problem is naive at best and foolish at worst.”

He added: “We need a long-term plan for how we are going to feed 70 million people on an island.”

18 months of bad weather has harmed farmer confidence (Getty Images)
18 months of bad weather has harmed farmer confidence (Getty Images)

Mr Bradshaw pointed to another post-Brexit issue on immigration that “we still don’t have a seasonal worker scheme for next year.”

This issue has seen EU citizens, who used to come and pick fruit, stop making the trip following the UK leaving the EU.

The survey shows that short and mid-term confidence is at its lowest since records began in 2010. Because of this lack of confidence, production intentions have also plummeted with all farming sectors expecting to decrease production over the next year.

The relentless wet weather has played a big part, with 82 per cent of respondents saying their farm businesses have suffered negative impacts, with mixed farms, arable farms and dairy farms having taken the biggest hits.