Brexit bigger worry than low commodities, says rural survey

Farmers and rural estate owners are now more concerned about the effect of Brexit than low commodity prices, according to a survey of rural sentiments.

About 33% of respondents to a Knight Frank survey said they were “very concerned” about the effect of Brexit – ahead of poor broadband (29%), Defra/RPA administrative issues (28%) and low commodity prices (24%).

In all, 58% said they were either concerned or very concerned about the effect of leaving the EU – exactly the same percentage who said they intended to vote “leave” in a Farmers Weekly survey before the referendum.

Respondents’ biggest concern about Brexit was not a possible reduction in farm subsidies (28% “very concerned”) as might be expected, but that agriculture would not be prioritised in Brexit negotiations, with 41% giving this response.

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There were also big worries about how Defra or the RPA would administer any new farming support, with 31% saying they were very concerned about this.

Overall, 43% of respondents said they were less optimistic about their prospects following the EU referendum – compared with 38% who said they were more optimistic.

Farmers choose “trade, not aid”

Andrew Shirley, head of rural research at Knight Frank, said many farms would struggle in their current form without support, with subsidies accounting for 75% of total income from farming (Tiff) across the UK in 2015.

“Despite this, it was definitely a case of ‘trade, not aid’ when we asked those who took part in [our survey],” said Mr Shirley.

“Only 26% of respondents said maintaining direct subsidies was very important, compared with 48%  who prioritised maintaining tariff-free access to the EU and and 55% who said negotiating new trade agreements with non-EU countries was crucial.”

These key issues, as well as rural-proofing other government departments, should be the top priority for Defra now, according to farmers and other rural businesses and estates.

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However, nearly 40% were “not at all optimistic” that Brexit would make UK politicians more accountable, one-third did not think red tape would be reduced and one-fifth were pessimistic that farmers would get more say in shaping agricultural policy.

The rural sentiment survey was conducted after the EU referendum result and included answers from 250 Knight Frank clients. About 40% of these were from rural estates, 38% were farmers, 10% were from sporting estates and 12% from other rural businesses.

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