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Farm leaders are under fire after using a Dutch university rather than British researchers to investigate the likely impact on agriculture of a UK exit from the EU.

The NFU commissioned experts from Wageningen University to consider the impact of Britain leaving the EU on a range of farm sectors.

The results suggest British farm incomes would fall across a range of sectors unless direct payments are maintained at current levels.

See also: Farm incomes could plummet outside EU – report

Based in the Netherlands, Wageningen University was recently ranked the top university in the world for agriculture.

The QS World University Rankings measures academic reputation, the employability of graduates and citations for published research.

But Ukip MEP and agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew, who is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, suggested the NFU should be backing British researchers – not just British farmers.

He added: “Do we really need to consult a collection of Dutchmen to tell us how to hill farm?”

Reading University

The QS World University Rankings named Reading University as 12th best in the world for studying agriculture – and the best place in the UK to study agriculture.

The university said it could have conducted the study and had undertaken similar research for 40 years.

Do we really need to consult a collection of Dutchmen to tell us how to hill farm? Stuart Agnew, Ukip MEP

Richard Ellis, dean of life sciences at Reading University, said: “Our academics provide expert advice and guidance to the UN, national governments, businesses and others, as well as educating the next generation of food producers.”

Wageningen had a very high international reputation and its research was welcome, said Prof Ellis.

But Reading also had the capability to research the potential impacts under different scenarios that Brexit could have on UK agriculture, food, and consumers.

Professor Ellis told Farmers Weekly: “This type of project is the sort of research that our Centre for Agricultural Strategy has specialised in since 1975 – with many influential reports published to date.”

NFU defence

NFU chief economics adviser Gail Soutar defended the decision to work with researchers from overseas rather than in the UK.

She said: “The decision to commission Wageningen University was based on its level of expertise in this field.

“They were able to deliver and provide the right level of detail required in terms of trade flows and farm income changes.

“Having done various impact assessments on agricultural policies’ implementation at EU level, Wageningen has access to the right econometric tools.”

Matt Lobley, director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute at Exeter University, said it was understandable that the NFU decided to commission the Brexit study from the world’s top university for agriculture.

Professor Lobley said: “Using a university outside the UK may appear more impartial. But there are also some top universities in the UK – and we also have some of the best researchers.”