Some farmers in the Lancaster area are “planning on selling up” over fears that Brexit could force them out of business.
Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, who met members of the Lancaster district’s farming community, says that sheep farmers are particularly concerned.
She said: “The government’s failed Brexit negotiations have led to uncertainty about tariffs, trade deals and the lack of access to labour.
“With the prospect of crashing out of Europe, all of this is already having a negative impact on Lancaster farmers.
“Some farmers say they’re planning on selling up.
“Regardless of whether farmers voted to leave or remain in Europe, it’s completely unacceptable that with a few months to go they still don’t know what the future holds.”
Around 40 per cent of our lamb is exported to Europe with France being the UK’s biggest market.
Ms Smith, who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum but has since said the outcome must be respected, said that if tariffs are introduced France will find cheaper products elsewhere.
“At present our farmers might sell a lamb for £80.
“If tariffs are introduced our farmers say they could lose 50 per cent of this income,” she said.
It’s estimated that 65 per cent of UK agricultural exports head for the EU and 70 per cent of our imports originate there. Land values also make farming in the UK more difficult.
In France an acre of farmland can be bought for £3,000. In Lancashire an acre can cost anything between £7,000 - £12,000 an acre.
“The farmers I spoke to are all fourth generation,” said Ms Smith.
“Many have invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in the last few years in new machinery and milking technology – now they wonder if they’ll be able to recoup that investment.”
The price of cattle feed has also rocketed in the last year adding to the woes of beef farmers.
Ms Smith also met representatives of the National Farmers Union, who say food production in the UK will be put at risk without government commitments to safeguard farmers after Brexit.
The NFU says there is a “clear market failure in the food chain” meaning that most farmers are not receiving enough for their produce to cover their costs without public subsidy.
Changing eating habits over the past three decades have helped fuel the increasing reliance on food grown overseas, with perishable items such as tomatoes, lettuce and citrus fruits expected to be available all year round.
According to figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the UK is a net exporter of meat, but relies heavily on imports such as bacon from Denmark, which exports 90 per cent of its pork.
UK farmers produce 57 per cent of the fresh vegetable requirements in Britain, 61 per cent of pork requirements and import 25 per cent of potatoes.
Britain exports more milk and cream products than it imports, and imports almost three times as much cheese as it exports, almost twice as many eggs and almost 20 times as many fresh vegetables, according to HM Revenue and Customs statistics for 2017.
“It’s essential the Government pushes farming and agriculture up the priority list,” added Ms Smith. “Our farmers face an uncertain future and therefore so do we.”
In response to our story, Lancashire County and Lancaster City Coun Charlie Edwards said that Ms Smith was trying to score political points.
He said: “Since the Brexit vote, it has been clear the country would be coming out of the Common Agricultural Policy. At a time when MPs should be providing clarity and support to their constituents, it seems Cat Smith is sowing seeds of doubt into the farming community.
“Farmers in Lancaster have told me it’s actually Labour’s plans for the Bailrigg Garden Village and other urban expansions on green belt that is prompting them to sell up.
“At the most important moment of negotiations in Westminster, it is so disappointing that our MP is playing at politics rather than representing her constituents in London.
“My advice to farmers is to establish and retain local supply and distribution chains, and as politicians we should be encouraging our residents to buy local, the best way for us to support our farmers.”