Farmers Weekly has received many letters from our readers concerning the EU referendum.
Many remain undecided and have written to express a desire for more information from unions and Defra.
Others have taken a clear stance and feel passionately about voting one way or the other.
Here are a selection of the letters received…
In response to your recent tweet asking for views on the EU referendum I would like to take the opportunity to give you the Farmers’ Union of Wales’ (FUW’s) position.
Having just come back from another series of fact-finding meetings in Brussels, I’m even prouder we were the first farming union in the UK to declare our position on membership of the EU. The facts demonstrate the value of our membership unequivocally.
While FUW members have consistently told me over recent years that Welsh agriculture is safer and stronger within the EU, we also know that successive UK governments have argued for cuts to the CAP budget and have offered little in terms of ideas to support the industry in the future should we elect to leave the EU.
This leaves me concerned for our future and I believe a Brexit is a dangerous step into the unknown and a risk we cannot afford to take. It is not just a risk for farmers and farming, but of course a wider risk for our rural communities.
I will be voting in favour of remaining a member of the EU and very much hope that others will join me in so doing.
The divided opinions of those Farmers Weekly columnists who have so far thrown their hats into the EU debate have a common thread running through them, encapsulated by David Richardson’s comment that “the fundamental question is whether farming and the nation would be better off in Europe or out of it”.
I suggest he, and they, are missing the point and the fundamental question is, in fact, whether Europe would be better off with us in it or out of it.
The EU was founded by men who fought and survived the Second World War and saw first hand a continent where, for the second time in a short century, its citizens had been starved, bombed and gassed into, to quote Winston Churchill, “a vast quivering mass of tormented, hungry, care-worn and bewildered human beings gaping at the ruins of their cities and homes”.
Those men were determined Europe would never again fall so low and to abandon that project now, at a time when it is facing arguably its greatest test, would be to betray the effort and sacrifice of the generation who showed the confidence and courage to join the reconstruction.
To paraphrase John F Kennedy – ask not what Europe can do for you, but what you can do for Europe.
I note with surprise the level of support for the “Leave” campaign among the farming community.
UK agriculture is one of the biggest beneficiaries of UK membership of the EU, whether via direct financial support, affordable labour or tariff-free exports to our largest foreign market.
The campaign to leave sits in opposition to the government and all opposition parties likely ever to form a future government. Its reassurances, therefore, for a post-EU Britain can be nothing more than unsupported aspiration, not policy.
Given Labour’s historic indifference to UK agriculture and the Conservatives’ aversion to state support of industry, farmers voting to leave under the impression a future UK government would simply redirect CAP contributions from Brussels directly to UK recipients while simultaneously slashing red tape are operating under a delusion. This winter’s experience of merely delayed BPS payments might give an indication of the financial turmoil an EU exit might bring for most.
As for the much-bemoaned EU red tape through which we all have to suffer, in the final analysis, given the manhours demanded filling in various forms to receive BPS and agri-environment payments versus those spent in the fields, I cannot help but think the return on investment between the two tasks makes my few days in the office a profitable part of my year at current commodity prices. Do we honestly believe the burden of paperwork, regulation and oversight would significantly decrease were we to exit?
See also: Read the latest twists and turns of the debate and the opinions of farmers and industry leaders on our EU referendum page
The referendum on our place in Europe has already brought with it a sense of hysteria, with
scaremongering from those who want to stay in. “You can’t trust a British government to support our industry.” “Where would we be without the CAP?”
Many farmers I have spoken to are unsure. There are the committed “outers”, a few committed “inners”, but mostly a lot of farmers are feeling very uncomfortable sitting on a very sharp fence.
As I look at the industry today, the new BPS is going out – some £2bn, mired with complexity and bureaucracy. Is this going to a thriving industry? No, it’s going to an industry on its knees. All that money is doing no more than ensuring a brief respite for many.
My simple view is, there has to be a better way of supporting this industry than a declining area payment coupled with a complex and bureaucratic Pillar 2 scheme.
I listened to George Eustice last week; his message was clear: this is an opportunity to design a better way of working, finding a better solution for our industry using government funding. The challenge is for the industry to suggest new ways of working.
The hysteria that greeted this from the “remain” campaigners is a little surprising bearing in mind that its leading proponents negotiated and must bear some responsibility for the CAP we have today.
If we take as an example our cattle and dairy sectors, I have never known them so depressed. Irrespective of the £200m-plus that arrives as an acreage payment, that sector is dying in front of our eyes.
What can our minister do? Nothing, while we are a part of the EU.
Young farmers see no way in and old farmers see no way out.
Post-Brexit, what could an English minister do? Help restructuring, with investment incentives for younger dairy farmers to take over? An exit strategy involving culling cattle for older farmers? Using our produce for foreign aid? Investment support for new buildings and parlours? Endemic disease support, currently costing tens of millions in losses and lost productivity? Research directed towards lameness and mastitis?
These are just a few of the options that would be available to us as an industry if we leave the straightjacket of the EU. I am sure there are many more.
Just how much more effective would the dialogue between the NFU and Defra be in an EU-free future, designing better outcomes?
For once, we have a real choice.
Michael Seals MBE ARAgS
Sutton on the Hill, Derbyshire
I would like to congratulate Jess Jeans on her excellent article as to why we should leave the EU.
One point I would like to highlight is the short-term attitude of many who wish to remain in. We must imagine what it might be like in 10 years. Remaining can only mean more of the same – more centralised control and less democracy for the individual.
The value of the support payments we receive is decreasing every year and, in 10 years’ time, will probably not be worth claiming.
Outside Europe we would have the benefit of controlling our own destiny and, as for food production, in 10 years we could be trading with the rest of the world and not tied to the relatively small market of the EU.
With less government interference we could see machinery and car production move from Europe to the UK.
The money we save paying into the European bureaucracy could help to improve our schools and health service. With controlled immigration, we could see the constant demand for housing diminish, preserving our precious countryside.
There will be some upheaval to start, but think of our children and imagine what the future might be like.
The CAP is supposed to bring stability to the agricultural sector. With UK farm prices at
unsustainably low levels across the board, the policy is failing.
In the dairy sector, where about 2,000 farms are expected to quit milk production within 12 months, producers will not have forgotten that it was the EU which oversaw the demise of the Milk Marketing Board, an organisation which delivered price stability, something the CAP cannot do and
The EU is, due to its cumbersome constitution, desperately slow to take decisions, often 10 or 15 years too late to be effective, as with reform of the disastrous Common Fishery Policy
How then is it ever going to deal with the far more urgent matters of its immigration/migration policy and the failings of its single currency? It won’t, until after the damage is done.
Tom Till FRICS