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Shots fired on farm subsidies post-Brexit

7th July 2016

In the wake of the UK’s Brexit decision, there have been numerous media articles about what went wrong and what happened next. In an opinion piece in the Times by editor of Economist offshoot 1843 magazine, Emma Duncan took aim at UK Agriculture with the headline “Time to cut our greedy farmers down to size”. A Remainer struggling to move out of the angry phase of mourning, Duncan said leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could be an upside to Brexit, as British farmers would be forced to compete on the world market, which would inevitably (in her view) lead to falling food prices and land values. With EU funding channeled into the NHS instead of farmers’ pockets, the community would benefit from public health care and falling land prices would open up more housing opportunities. A shrinking farm sector would lead to greater biodiversity according to Duncan, returning land back into “wilderness” and encouraging less large scale agriculture.  Furthermore, Duncan expressed no sympathy for UK farmers facing lower incomes and falling asset prices, as most farmer voted for the change. In Duncan’s own words, these “genetically modified turkeys voted for Christmas”.

Predictably, Duncan’s opinions been pulled apart by farmers labelling the idea of less cultivated land benefitting wildlife “as new ecosystems flourish” as “arrant nonsense” and warning that reduced food self-sufficiency “an island nation with an agricultural industry in decline is utterly reliant on food imports from overseas.” Complaints about how hard it is to produce food compared to sipping lattes behind a computer were also directed at Duncan from furious ag-bloggers.

While it may have felt good to shoot the messenger, the fact remains, many urban dwellers with limited connection to farming, could be feeling the same. Many in the “Remain” camp – overwhelmingly those in more urbanized regions of the UK, may feel farmers will get what they deserve if subsidies are reduced, or even removed post-Brexit.

While opinions such as Duncan’s may be wrong-headed and offensive to many in the UK farm sector, they could signal the new reality of a post-Brexit UK, where farmers will have to lobby hard, without the support of politically strong colleagues on the continent for favourable treatment from their own government. There were many promises made by “Leave” campaigners about where current EU funding could be channeled. Many of these area, health and education have a broader and more direct appeal to the wider UK community. Supporting farmers could be well down the list of priorities unless the sector works hard to positively engage with consumers and politicians.