NFU chief warns of Brexit no deal ‘agricultural Armageddon’

The UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal would be an “Armageddon scenario” for farmers, the head of the NFU told the Royal Welsh Show.

NFU president Minette Batters said leaving the EU with no deal would be the worst possible outcome for Welsh farming.

“Crashing out without a deal. That is the Armageddon scenario. That has to be avoided,” said Ms Batters, speaking at an NFU Cymru seminar on Monday (23 July) on Brexit and what the future holds for Welsh farming.

See also: Why Welsh sheep producers are more vulnerable to Brexit fallout

Ms Batters said she had recently held positive talks with prime minister Theresa May, who had assured her that agri-food is “back on the Brexit agenda”.

Minette Batters

Minette Batters © Ian Hinchliff/REX/Shutterstock

Single market access ‘vital’

First minister for Wales Carwyn Jones said farmers must be given “full and unfettered access” to the single market after Brexit.

“Ninety percent of our food and drink exports go to Europe. If we can’t get our relationship right with Europe, we have nowhere else to sell at the right price,” he added.

“If we can’t get our relationship right with our closest and biggest market, what hope have we of getting a free-trade agreement with any other country?”

Mr Jones said a “no deal” Brexit would create many difficulties and he also urged the UK government to reconsider its stance on the customs union – and stay in it.

“We can leave the EU sensibly, or we can crash out,” he added. “That would mean tariffs, veterinary checks at the ports, health checks and more bureaucracy.”

Red meat sector ‘vulnerable’

Mr Jones said the Welsh government is looking at ways to prepare the red meat sector for Brexit, especially the sheep meat sector, which is the “most vulnerable”.

The Welsh government is also seeking assurances from the UK government that it will continue to fund Welsh farming to the same level after 2022.

Kevin Roberts, chairman of red meat lobby Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales), said political factions between pro-EU and Brexiteer MPs are making the prospect of a no deal Brexit more likely.

The Welsh sheep sector would suffer most in the event of a no deal Brexit, he added.

“If we crash out of the EU and we are left to do trade on WTO [World Trade Organization] rules, we will be uncompetitive,” he said.

“That would see 50% average tariffs on sheep meat exports. There will be no European exports.”

NZ lamb imports

Industry modelling has forecast this would result in 30% oversupply of sheepmeat, a 30% fall in farmgate prices and, over time, a 12% fall in output.

However, because of the arrangement with tariff rate quotas, the UK would still be faced with imports from New Zealand and Australia.

“This is nothing short of disastrous. The knock-on consequences for rural communities of that collapse in the sheep sector is going to go on for a long time,” said Mr Roberts.

“There are lots of opportunities for Brexit and farming in Wales. But will we survive a hard exit? In the sheep sector, maybe not.”