Grass roots farmers were at odds with others working in the agricultural industry when it came to casting their votes in this year’s EU referendum.
A new survey of more than 2,000 readers conducted by Farmers Weekly has revealed a significant split between how farmers voted and how non-farmers voted.
The survey was targeted at print readers and FWi users, so it is fair to assume that a large proportion of the 672 non-farmers taking part would have come from the ancillary sector – merchants, processors, feed suppliers, machinery dealers and vets for example.
These people, it would appear, were much more in favour of staying in the EU – with 58% voting “remain” compared with just 38% wanting to leave.
This tends to support anecdotal evidence gleaned at the time, when many companies and industry organisations spoke out in favour of “remain”, and were seemingly frustrated that their members and customers – grassroots farmers – took a different view.
Even though they got the outcome they wanted, farmers are actually gloomier about the prospects for their businesses than they were before the referendum – despite the short-term boost their incomes have received as a result of currency swings.
The explanation, it seems, is that farmers are taking a longer-term view and are particularly concerned about future trade prospects – fundamental to the future prosperity of their sector.
When we asked how confident they felt that the UK government would secure a good trade deal with the EU and other countries post-Brexit, just 15% said they were “very confident”, while 30% said they were “quite confident”.
This compared with 55% who were either “not very confident” or “not at all confident”.
Again, there seems to have been something of an attitude swing over the past six months, as our original survey had 62% of farmers saying they were either quite confident or very confident the government would get a good trade deal.
The survey also revealed that potato and vegetable growers are among the most pessimistic, with more than half believing they will be worse off as a result of Brexit.
More than the trade impact, this most likely reflects the problems they are already experiencing with regards sourcing enough seasonal labour, with significant cost increases looming as a result.
Other findings from our survey
- There was little difference between farm types in how they voted in the referendum, with horticulture the only sector in which more farmers wanted to remain rather than leave the EU
- Farmers in the South West voted most strongly to leave the EU, followed by Yorkshire
- More than half of farmers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also voted leave
- Those aged between 35-55 year-olds were most inclined to remain, younger and older farmers wanted to leave
- A majority of men wanted to leave, a majority of women wanted to remain
- Dairy and pig farmers are slightly more optimistic, with 40% thinking they will be better off post-Brexit
What you think about Brexit?
Our survey invited farmers to add a comment or two about what they thought about the Brexit vote. Here is a selection from the many hundreds who chose to do so:
“We may suffer short-term pain, before we get long-term gain. We are a very competitive country with a lot of the best farmers in the world and we can stand on our own two feet.” Leave voter
“Fantastic. The sooner we walk away, the better. Our trade deficit with the EU shows they must come to us on bended knee rather than the other way round as most commentators suppose.” Leave voter
“Disaster for farming. Disaster for the environment. Disaster for workers’ rights. Disaster for economic prosperity. Welcome to the dark ages.” Remain voter
“Brexit is disastrous for anybody wishing to start in the farming industry. Fluctuating share markets will drive investors back into land, pushing up prices for new entrants.” Remain voters
“If the government holds out for a good deal, then I think the chance of a better farming life is well within reach. There has got to be a better way than spending life in EU mediocrity.” Remain voter who said he would now vote leave
“Brexit has given way too much instability and uncertainty to all aspects of agriculture. It has made markets potentially more volatile and could dramatically change subsidies.” Leave voter who said he would now vote remain