The absence of a coherent post-Brexit policy for agriculture threatens to undermine farm businesses as the UK leaves the EU, say industry leaders.
Lack of government clarity is in danger of stifling the sector – with farmers reluctant to invest in their own businesses, the NFU has warned.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said the government’s recent White Paper outlining its approach to Brexit was unclear when it came to agriculture.
“Regarding agriculture, it said that – and I quote: ‘continued high levels of market access are in the UK and EU’s mutual interest.’
“Whereas the financial sector had a very firm commitment in that same paper of having – and I quote again – the ‘freest possible trade’.”
Mr Raymond made the comments while sharing a platform with Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham.
Turning to Mrs Leadsom, he asked: “What does that actually mean for farmers?
“Continued high levels of market access are in the UK and EU’s mutual interest… is that a commitment? Is it a statement of fact?
“I’m sure many farmers in this room will tell you exactly what it is… it is time for clarity.
A “fairly simple recipe” would help to deliver a successful outcome for farming as the UK left the EU, said Mr Raymond.
First, farmers needed unrestricted access to the EU single market, Mr Raymond told delegates at the Birmingham International Convention Centre on Tuesday (21 February).
Second, they also needed continued access to a competent and reliable workforce – including seasonal workers from overseas.
Finally, farmers needed a new agricultural policy which helped to develop an increasingly productive, progressive and profitable farming sector.
Speaking afterwards, Mrs Leadsom outlined five principles she said must be followed as the government drew up its plans for a more prosperous farming industry.
These were free-trade deals, a more productive workforce, incentives for environmental measures, the promotion of animal and plant health and welfare, and a resilient industry.
Mrs Leadsom said: “Since last summer, we’ve been having regular discussions with organisations from across the sector and beyond.”
The government was stepping up this engagement to ensure it heard as many views – from as many different perspectives – as possible.
Mrs Leadsom said she would be meeting ministers from each of the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Thursday (23 February).
Farmers would be able to give their views direct to ministers and government officials during a series of events across the country in March and April, she added.