farmingDo I think that British Agriculture could survive outside the EU? Yes, of course I do.

After all, this is the country that produced Jethro Tull, the NORFOLK four course rotation, James Watt, Henry Ferguson and of course Guy Smith! I would have struggled to have made this case thirty years ago, cocooned as we were then by very high intervention prices for unlimited quantities of many commodities, high tariffs to keep out imports and export restitutions to dump our surpluses overseas. All of this combined with a very light regulatory touch.

If you chat to farmers on a shooting trailer or a pub about leaving the EU there is always one who will moan, “but I can’t make a profit without my Single Farm Payment” and his head will go straight into the sand. However, that man is making an assumption. He is assuming that the EU is the only institution in the world that supports agriculture. He is wrong, the USA have their Counter Cyclical Program, Canada has its Crop Price Insurance Scheme, even Japan has The Basic Law combined with the Basic Plan. Historically, this country has been through the mill on the subject of agricultural support.

We know that when it was overdone we were obliged to repeal the “Corn Laws” and later when we let Agriculture ‘go hang’ in the 1940s, people did not have enough to eat. We learned from that experience, and from the end of the war, right up until the day we joined the CAP, we supported agriculture. Looking forward, the only political party wanting to take us out of the EU, (it is called UKIP by the way!] states categorically in its manifesto that it will support agriculture. Any Government of an independent Britain will need to consider the issue of food security. As a crowded island of 62 million people can we really rely on foreigners to produce all of our food, just because it might be slightly cheaper?

There are two huge risks. One is a dramatic loss of supply after a few years due to, say, a drought in the Southern hemisphere. The other is the real risk of terrorism with all of this food arriving through a handful of deep water ports and Heathrow. What a gift to a terrorist. It only needs one such incident, the threat of others and our ‘just in time’ food supply is disrupted. Five consecutively missed meals results in anarchy. I just cannot see our government taking the risk. Some taxpayers money to support a reliable production base here, is the less bad option.

The CAP has changed considerably over the years, which is probably why we are talking about this now. The proportion of the EU budget allocated to agriculture has significantly dropped and in the reform we are discussing at the moment it is scheduled to keep dropping. The new countries joining, Croatia, Macedonia, Ukraine and Turkey, will all be net recipients of the EU Budget meaning that your Single Farm Payment will be further reduced. This expansion to the South and East has two further dynamics.

There is the relentless dilution of our influence in the EU and we are getting to a new place culturally. A place where institutionalised corruption and non-compliance is a fact of life; and if you don’t believe me, why are there still at least 50 million birds in battery cages, as I speak ? They are twiddling with the physical application as well. Set-aside is returning and you will be obliged to grow crops that you wouldn’t normally grow. Both these measures will reduce your profits. Some may now say, “OK fair enough, but what about selling malting barley and lamb to the EU when we are no longer part of it?”. Do not worry, we run a massive trade deficit with the EU. We buy far more from it than we sell to it. For example 17.7% of all German exports to the EU come here. The figure for France is over 11%. They are not going to mess with us, they need our market. We are in a strong position to negotiate very good trade terms with them, and this is not creating a precedent. There are at least fifty countries in the world with their own preferential trade agreements with the EU, some of them buying very little from it.

Meanwhile we have to sit on our hands whilst the EU conducts a bilateral trade agreement on our behalf with Mercosur, that will be to the great detriment of our beef industry. It is less well known that Japan is one of the countries that DOESN’T have a special trade deal with the EU, but it is a country from which we buy a great deal. We could and should have a deal with them whereby in return for our purchases of manufactured goods they buy some wheat and beans from us. You never know, they may grow a bit taller as a result!

In my opinion there was a scandal in operation here a few years ago. Sheep farmers and graziers were paying competitive rents for MOD airfields, etc, but the MOD appeared to refuse point blank to purchase their sheepmeat supplies for the troops and civilian employees from the home market. They were virtually forced into this position by Pascal Lamy the EU Trade Commissioner. He went to South America and said ” I can guarantee that the UK Government will buy your sheepmeat, if you in turn buy your Fiat cars from Spain and Italy”. So Spain and Italy win, we lose, what’s new in the EU?

No discussion on EU agriculture is complete without reference to regulation. We are drowned in it. For example: the Nitrates Directive. We used to have our own maximum level of 100 milligrams per litre of water. There were no health scares at this level. When the EU took over they halved the level to 50. The difference is critical. The NFU commissioned a study to discover what measures we would need to take to remain under 50. The answer came back that half of East Anglia would need to be left as ungrazed set-aside plus a fair slice of the East Midlands.

Then we have this huge con trick about man-made global warming, driven by computer models. These same computer models and experts, made a complete hash of forecasting our winter weather three years running. Was I the only farmer last year to lose a third of his sugar beet crop, frozen solid into the ground by global warming? Am I the only farmer who needs Carbon Dioxide to make his crops grow? But in the EU this scam is a religion. What a wonderful excuse to boss us all about. You will have to play your part. Arable farmers must divert the exhaust of their tractors over the cab and into the soil via the tines of trailed implements. Think of the power this will consume. Think of the seedbeds it will spoil.

Livestock farmers: your sheep and cattle are producing too much methane. You must feed them less grass, hay and silage. And more cereals and concentrates! The madness doesn’t end here. This set-aside that is returning is nothing to do with controlling supply. It is a “climate change” measure. The logic is that if 7% of the EU is not farmed properly, then the world’s weather will improve! We have the Working Time Directive. When this is enforced properly it will be hugely inconvenient for farmers and employees alike. There is the Physical Agents Directive. It hasn’t been buried, only parked. When last seen it said that farmers could only sit on a tractor seat for three hours a day!

The Pesticides Directive is removing pesticides from our shelves, making it difficult or impossible to grow certain minority crops that will now need to be imported. Legislation going through the European Parliament at the moment on very small tractors includes 37 closely typed pages of script on how to test their roll bars. We can thrive without that! Everyday, at least 1000 sheep, fallen stock are transported up to 100 miles to be roasted at 900 degrees centigrade. You talk about Global Warming! There are millions of acres on which these animals could be safely buried.

We used to have a fishing industry in this country, until it was destroyed by the EU. Surplus fish were processed into fishmeal, a very useful protein source for our livestock. The EU took over and now this surplus has to be dumped, dead, at the bottom of the sea. An independent Britain could turn this round. All over the world farmers are exporting food and feedstuffs to the EU, tariff free. They do not have to adhere to these rules, so WHY SHOULD WE?

by Stuart Agnew MEP

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