"I would urge more support for the local producer and people need to be more aware of where their food comes from."
Adam Barrass of Vickers Barrass
The Agriculture Bill, which is one of the most important pieces of farming legislation in decades, raises some issues that need to be urgently addressed, according to Adam Barrass, Managing Director at County Durham Land Agents and Surveyors, Vickers & Barrass.
Providing broad powers to current and future governments to offer financial assistance and make other policy interventions, the Bill, which received its third reading in Parliament last week, lays out a legislative framework for how the country’s farming industry and wider rural economy can move forward from the Common Agricultural Policy as Britain exits the European Union.
However, Adam Barrass, who advises many farmers and agricultural businesses across the North of England, says there are issues with the Bill and has shared his concerns with Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham.
He said: “Farmers will continue to produce the high quality food the country wants and needs to feed itself. But the Government’s view is that food production is not a public good and therefore is certain to limit the amount of subsidy support available to the agricultural sector.”
“The public will buy high quality, local produce that’s produced under the most stringent guidelines and traceability in Europe, if not the world, to assist in supporting the British agricultural industry. But as we head into what is expected to be the worst economic recession in history, it’s worrying where the public’s money will come from to buy these goods and they may be forced to look for cheaper, less well reared alternatives.”
The concern is that the market for some products, such as high-quality lamb, which is primarily exported to Europe, is lost overnight through lack of appropriate trade deals and this raises questions over future sustainability, said Adam Barrass.
“This is one of only a few viable agricultural activities that is sustainable in upland areas - the North of England has large expanses of uplands which produce store lambs before they are purchased to then fatten on lower, better ground, to prepare them for the consumer market. Is the Government going to continue to support this in the light of its view on food production?”
It is likely that a trade deal will be struck with Europe as Brexit transition negotiations continue in the in the coming months, but the industry remains cautious.
“Richard Holden MP offered assurances that if the export markets and import tariffs imposed in relation to Europe are too stringent and impact on price, the Government is working hard to open up new export routes to Japan, the US and Middle East countries,” Adam Barrass said.
“There are undoubtedly strong opportunities for British agricultural produce in these and other international markets, where consumers want quality goods at affordable prices. The key to success is to promote a ‘Britishisbest’ message in the new export markets.”
“It’s a tough challenge and there has to be concern over what concessions are being given to bring the new avenues of export on stream. Could the USA flood the market with American beef produced for instance, using very much less stringent standards of production to squeeze out British produce?”
As the Agriculture Bill moves closer to coming in to effect, Adam Barrass said that there are many questions left unanswered.
“No doubt, farmers will adapt and change as they have done so many times in the past,” he said. “However, I would urge more support for the local producer and people need to be more aware of where their food comes from.”
“I would also support the calls to Richard Holden and other MPs to ensure that labeling is uniform across the industry and that it’s crystal clear to consumers which country the food they buy comes from to better inform their choices in the supermarket.”