British farmers would face an uncertain future if the UK left the European Union, says the trade association which represents 250 agricultural suppliers.
Too many questions remained unanswered when it came to supporting Brexit, warned the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), which represents £6.5bn in farmgate turnover.
“There is a clear lack of information on strategy and desired outcomes from both sides,” says a policy paper published by the confederation.
“For those arguing the UK should remain in the EU there is no information on how agriculture might benefit from further and future reforms,” it warns.
But there was a more fundamental problem with a lack of any information from those arguing that the UK should leave the EU, the paper adds.
Strategic objectives to be pursued by an “independent” UK in terms of negotiation, objectives, timetables or intended outcomes are lacking, it says.
“This lack of an objective framework makes it impossible at this stage for AIC to take any informed view on the agricultural implications of the UK leaving the EU.”
AIC chairman Jon Duffy acknowledged there was a lot of frustration among farmers when it came to EU rules and regulations. But he said the case for leaving didn’t yet stack up.
Mr Duffy said two issues would be of particular concern to farmers if the UK left the EU. Those issues were losing open access to trade and uncertainty over future farm support.
“As EU members, we have open access to trade across the EU and have numerous trade negotiations and trade deals in place as EU members right around the world.”
Agriculture in the UK relied heavily on trade, said Mr Duffy, who is also business development director for crop production and marketing company for Frontier Agriculture.
“The more competitive we can be, the better. As soon as you step outside of that, all you get mass uncertainty. At the minute, we have certainty.”
The second issue was the level of financial support to agriculture.
“Agriculture is a supported industry around the world. We are in a bloc that supports agriculture and if we come out, all of a sudden we are again in uncertain world.”
Defra had yet to reveal a coherent Plan B for agriculture in the event that the UK left the EU following the in-out referendum on 23 June, said Mr Duffy.
“No-one can say for certain that the Treasury would still support agriculture to the same amount as its is currently getting,” he said.
Although Defra minister George Eustice had insisted that farm support would continue, and might even increase, most people thought privately or otherwise that it would go down.