As Britain begins to grapple with its post-Brexit status, many wonder what the UK’s agriculture industry will look like as policy-making returns from EU control.
Coined, “one of the most significant pieces of legislation for farmers in over 70 years.” the UK’s proposed agriculture bill is eagerly awaited in Britain, where 460,000 people rely on farming for an income and 70 per cent of British land (17.4 million hectares) is under agricultural management.
The most significant difference between the EU’s Commons Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the new bill is the move away from the cash subsidy program which has historically paid farmers for productivity and food security outcomes.
The new agriculture bill will include subsidies for “public goods” – outcomes which benefit everyone, but provide little or no financial return to the farmer – such as clean air and water.
The move away from production-based incentives reflects the UK Government’s attempt to use agriculture as a way to achieve lofty goals under their 25 Year Clean Environment Plan and the Clean Growth Strategy, which includes aims such as, “enhanced beauty, heritage and opportunities to engage with the natural environment.”
One wide-spread concern of a post-Brexit world is the availability of migrant labour for low-skilled agriculture jobs, with many concerned about the impact that stricter immigration laws might have. This week, the UK Government revealed plans to implement a points-based immigration system to restrict the flow of low-skilled migrant workers.
The plan was met by criticism from business groups and unions in several different industries for its potential to cause staff shortages. In Cambridgeshire, Beverly Dixon from G’s Fresh – a horticulture enterprise that sells more than a billion packs of salads and vegetables per year, said that the company could face a shortage of up to 1,000 pickers during next year’s harvest.
“The immigration policy-points based system is unlikely to include workers at the skill level that the government categorise our roles as – which is low skilled. The English language level would also be a concern,” she said.
Similarly, the meat processing industry also faces significant labour shortages. According to Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, 60-70% of meat plant workers are migrants.
“They quickly get trained and go above [the] salary cap. Our concern is getting access to that sort of person… We struggle to get that on the home market. The only option will be slowing down how many animals we can take in, it will disrupt the whole supply chain from farm gate to consumer – costs for farmers, and the shortages of food on the shelves.”
Common Agricultural Policy
The UK’s agriculture industry has been subject to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), introduced in 1973.
The key focus of CAP was the use of financial subsidies to increase productivity and food security, improve the living conditions of agricultural employers and workers, to stabilise markets and provide food to consumers at a reasonable price.
Over the years, CAP evolved to include environmental and sustainability outcomes, to increase the number of young farmers, small farms and off-shoot sectors such as agri-tourism.