A large majority of farmers have been reacting positively to future subsidy decline, with over three-quarters saying they have a plan for their business to cope with less support after Brexit.

When asked: “Are you planning for a future with reduced farm subsidy after Brexit?” 78% of arable growers visiting the Farmers Weekly stand at Cereals 2017 said that they are already taking steps to mitigate future declines in funding.

On the first day of the event, a total of 217 people voted in the poll.

See also: More coverage from Cereals 2017

 

We caught up with some of the voters to find out how their businesses could make up the lost income, and what – if anything – they have already been doing to avoid plunging into the red.

Video: Do farmers have a plan for a future decline in support payments after Brexit?

 

“We’ve been getting reduced subsidies for years,” said Mr and Mrs Lloyd, from Llansantffraed Farm, Monmouthshire, “and we’ve gone fully arable and sold our herd of cattle to reduce fixed costs and specialise.”

They said this has allowed them to justify bigger-ticket spending on arable machinery, as ditching the cattle pasture gave them a bigger arable area to spread costs over.

“Diversification into wind farming has cushioned the effect for us,” said Fred Cawkwell, from Narrow Farm, in East Yorkshire.

He thought some subsidy is likely to remain, at a reduced level, but said that as funding falls, he is likely to reduce machinery purchases and other capital investment.

“We’ve moved into environmental schemes and are trying to remove blackgrass to cheapen our establishment costs and increase yields,” said former Cereals host Andrew Ward, of Glebe Farm, Lincolnshire.

He said the future is positive for British farming if subsidies decline, as “the current system is supporting inefficient farming and I am sure the future will provide more opportunities for progressive farmers”.

Others less optimistic

Not all growers agreed that their businesses had the opportunity to make up the funding deficit from alternative sources such as diversification or environmental funding, however.

Graham Barlow, estate manager at Barlows of Belvoir, Leicestershire, struck a more cautious note.

“We’ve diversified already, so I’m not sure what else we can do,” he said.

“We have studied the Countryside Stewardship Scheme but we’ll consider not going in as it doesn’t justify the alternation to existing productivity.”

He explained that while he had no problem with the principle of fencing off patches to plant with bird mixtures and the like, in practice it is difficult to find a place where airborne seed will not infest surrounding commercial cropping.

Oliver Mason, of N and M Mason, in North Lincolnshire said: “We won’t be able to make any money without subsidies – they make the job profitable,” and added that he does not believe that consumers will be prepared to pay more for their food in the future to make up the difference.

Tom Barker, of Lincolnshire-based H Barker and Sons, singled out another aspect of EU influence on UK agriculture – herbicide legislation – as the critical factor affecting farm profitability.

He said: “If Roundup (glyphosate) is banned – then farming is done.”

David Maddocks, from Devauden, Chepstow, also thought that the subsidy debate was a sideshow compared with another potential side-effect of Brexit.

He said: “What we as farmers should be doing is lobbying to stay in the customs union.”

Mr Maddocks believed that the loss of free movement of goods would be catastrophic, and said he is pessimistic about any Brexit deal being concluded within the two-year deadline, with hundreds of complex deals needing to be renegotiated.