Nobody knows exactly what Brexit will mean for UK agriculture. As winter falls across the country, farmers look ahead to a new challenge—and, perhaps, a chance to reinvent their industryby Jessie Mathewson / January 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
“We just do not know what’s going to happen beyond Brexit.” It’s an icy December morning when I catch James Davidson, skating down the farm close to his office. A few days ago, snow fell across the country, and in the north east of Scotland it’s still clinging to the ground—an extra challenge for the lorries carting barley, wheat and oilseed rape away from the Davidsons’ farm. There’s nothing new about weather getting in the way, though, and if it means hours guiding drivers on the slippery track to the grain stores, then that’s what the Davidsons will do.
It’s been eight years since James came back to the family farm. After leaving home for university, work took him as far afield as Japan, but ten years later, a growing interest in agriculture brought him back to Scotland. Now in his thirties, he’s running the business with his father, and starting a family of his own: this isn’t the time for uncertainty.
Access to European markets was the key driver of James’s vote to remain in the EU: Brexit means uncertainty for his business, a challenge that’s particularly acute given farming’s notoriously slim profits. “It’s very difficult to really make any longterm planning decisions at the moment: we just do not know what trading conditions we’ll be operating within.”
But James remains positive, or seems to: “As an industry, we’ve always been used to working against an uncertain backdrop. It’s always a very volatile market place.”
Nearly 500 miles away, near the Brecon Beacons, John Davies is feeling about the same. He may be farming beef and lamb in the Welsh hills, but the challenge facing him is similar to that facing any businessperson: “I’ve made the investment, its more than often a big investment—you need to have an idea of what marketplace you’re going to be in. Our calves that have been born today, the cow will face a post-Brexit marketplace already.”
“So, it’s really, really important that we know where we are going forward: if you’re going to dive off a cliff, the first thing you do is check to see how deep the water is.”
It sounds bleak, but even over the phone I can hear the energy. John’s enthusiasm for the industry is tangible. When I ask how he voted in the referendum (Remain, it turns out)…