Members and supporters will recall that the County Council refused to release their impact assessment in the event of No Deal Brexit that we requested in 2019 because of the “chilling” effect that it would cause. Had the Council have released the assessments our farmers would have been able to prepare for the worst. As they refused to do so, we can’t help but wonder whether our farmers have been let down badly by the leadership of Lincolnshire County Council who backed Brexit to the hilt and promised that Brexit would provide new opportunities for County’s farmers. Indeed in January 2020, Cllr Martin Hill leader of Lincolnshire County Council claimed that the residents of Lincolnshire had placed their trust in the government to deliver a great Brexit and a stronger future.
Now 10 months into life completely outside of Europe we are wondering whether that trust might have been misplaced.
There has been much reported in the press on the challenges that Lincolnshire farmers have faced since Brexit, in particular with this years harvest. Some of the stories have appeared in the national press. Some have remained local. All point to a trend of costs going up. Costs that will have to be recovered in some way. It is inevitable that we are facing a period of food price inflation that will hamper our economic recovery from the effects of Covid.
The latest evidence that all is not as it should be comes from a report on the impact of Brexit on tenants of farms owned by Lincolnshire County Council, which was presented to the Council's Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee on 19 October. The report highlighted the following issues:-
- A number of tenants have reported problems in dealing with the new international trade regime.
- Tenants face increased costs which is a disincentive and there is also a significantly increased administration burden for exports. This as has led to delays in having to comply with the necessary requirements for inspection. For example, when a vegetable producer is looking to export, the potential delay of several days does not fit with the expectation of the buyers.
- One business on the County Farms Estate before Brexit, regularly exported to the Netherlands, with deliveries taking place within 24 hours of an order being placed. Post Brexit, it now takes several days due to the requirements to have the goods inspected and this delay has proven unacceptable to the purchaser. The farmer in question has exported one load in the past year and is not planning to do so again in the foreseeable future.
- The delay in the delivery of perishable goods cause deterioration in the quality of the product. One tenant who had previously regularly exported across the Irish Sea is now unable to sell to those customers as the goods are likely to be held for several days on landing pending inspection, after which time the load is un-saleable.
- According to industry representations made to the Prime Minister recently, it is estimated that there are 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the UK food supply chain. This is no less of a problem locally, and there has been increasing difficulty reported by County Farms tenants over the past year or so. It is a particular issue for the more intensive/horticultural businesses which are growing vegetables, potatoes, or flowers.
- Tenants have reported difficulties sourcing labour, labour turning up but demanding increased pay in order to work, operatives receiving better offers and going elsewhere. Some labour suppliers have been demanding £20 per hour to supply agricultural labourers. One of the larger farming tenants involved in the growing, processing and packing of brassicas for the supermarkets, reported that their labour costs are up 25% year on year.
- There is a view that deliveries are slower due to the shortage of haulage drivers. Aside from the concern at sourcing haulage when required, tenants have expressed concern that this will inevitably lead to higher costs.
- The Government's proposed Lump Sum Exit Scheme would allow farmers who wish to exit the industry to take their remaining transition period Direct Payments as a capitalised lump sum. In a survey County Farms' tenants indicated that due to the financial cap of £100k, there would be very little take up, as it was felt the figure would not provide sufficient funds, particularly for those without accommodation.
The Committee debated this report and a recording of the debate can be found on You Tube from 1 hr 19 mins 41 seconds in.
This was not the Brexit that we were promised. During the referendum campaign, the leader of the Leave campaign, now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson made promises to Lincolnshire farmers regarding the supply of labour. Promises that appear to have been broken. in short our farmers have been betrayed
What will it take for the Government to acknowledge that it has made a mistake by delivering this particular form of Brexit, and accept the hard truth. Leaving the single market was an epic mistake that needs to be reversed.