NFU board member Guy Poskitt has called on the Government to create a post-Brexit agricultural policy that will help farmers drive their businesses forward. Speaking at the first Rix Petroleum Agricultural Open Day at Driffield Showground earlier this month, he told an audience of farmers that in his view, key priorities for such a policy are funding, labour, trade, and plant health.
Mr Poskitt said Brexit could bring benefits such as a reduction in red tape, higher prices and no longer being under EU rule. He warned delegates that the EU remained British farming’s biggest export customer and the government needed to achieve a free trade deal. Mr Poskitt grows vegetables and potatoes over 6,000 acres of owned, rented and shared land in East Yorkshire. He started his business more than 40 years ago and now employs nearly 300 people.
Profitable, Productive and Progressive
Addressing the 60-strong audience, he said: “Nobody really knows what Brexit means for us in the future or what the government is going to deliver for us. The only thing we do know is we’re coming out. So, what about funding? What about labour? What about trade and what about plant health? These are all really important challenges we’ve got in front of us.”
Mr Poskitt said farmers need to be profitable, productive and progressive if they are to drive their businesses forward, adding that he thought funding would be cut beyond 2020.
“Currently, £2.3bn in BPS (Basic Payment Scheme) is paid with a total of £3.2bn through Countryside Stewardship. Will this continue? I would like to think so as it’s so important to agriculture, but there is no doubt the mechanism will change and the values may reduce. What I would like to see is that we get less funding, but more opportunities for funding to grow our businesses. We all want to take agriculture to a place where we no longer need support because I don’t think any farmer is proud of the fact they get support, but to get from A to B, sometimes you need a lot of funding.”
He said Brexit was a great opportunity to strengthen British farming’s brand abroad.
“We need to promote British products,” Mr Poskitt said. “You look at the Irish, they are a massive exporter and they’ve promoted the brand of Irish – Irish butter, Irish milk, Irish beef – I think it is a big opportunity for us to do the same.”
Describing labour as a ‘hot potato’, Mr Poskitt said horticulture employs 80,000 workers, but he pointed to other industries to emphasise the importance of migrants to the UK economy.
“Migrant workers are so important, not just in agriculture but throughout our community. A lot of the press have said to me ‘what are you going to do if you don’t get your migrant workers?’. I say simple, I’ll change my business and become an ordinary arable farmer growing cereals, but tell Mrs May how she’s going to run her care homes and health service without migrant workers, because you don’t do it. The government needs to control immigration but this myth of just send them home won’t work because this whole industry, our food industry, would stop.”
Mr Poskitt also called on the government to deliver a pesticides framework that was ready for Brexit. He said the industry needed the right chemistry and right research in place to enable it to grow. “If you look at glyphosate, there’s a lot of noise about banning glyphosate in Europe. So if it gets banned, and we’re out of Europe, will we be able to use glyphosate if we’re going to export to Europe? Probably not. We need a common-sense approach. You can’t feed people organically, that’s a lifestyle choice. GM; everyone this side of the pond seems to worry about GM and run for the hills. So, you’ve got to look at sensible pesticides that are safe and that people understand.”
Mr Poskitt added that coming out of the EU was an opportunity to tear up some of the legislation that blighted UK farming and start again with a blank sheet of paper.
Pointing to the controversial three-crop rule, he said: “In the UK we have plenty of diversity without bringing in that rule. All it does is make an efficient farm inefficient. You can have a brassica grower in Lincolnshire or a carrot grower in Yorkshire, suddenly they have to grow other crops to satisfy the three-crop rule. Is it going to change the diversity of the countryside and is it going to change the mix of crops? Absolutely not.”
Other speakers at the event included Duncan Lambert, director of Rix Petroleum, Julia Mansfield, technical manager at Exocet, Mark Todd, UK wholesale business manager from global energy company Phillips 66 and Mike Philips of Q8 Oils UK. It was the first time that Rix Petroleum has hosted an agricultural open day, but the company is looking to make it an annual date in the farming calendar.
Duncan Lambert said: “We have a close relationship with the farming community and we have often been asked if we can put on an event that will bring them together. The Agricultural Open Day aimed at doing just that. We had some interesting and thought-provoking talks, so hopefully everyone went away feeling a little bit more informed.”
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