OPINION: Time is running out to avoid costly ‘no-deal’ disruption to our farms

Nick Deane of Bure Farm Services is the Norfolk branch chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU)

Nick Deane of Bure Farm Services is the Norfolk branch chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU). Picture: Chris Hill. - Credit: Chris Hill

After a uniquely difficult year, the prospect of ending the Brexit transition without an EU deal could bring yet more challenges for farmers in 2021 says NICK DEANE, Norfolk branch chairman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

We are only 10 months through the year but, for many of us, the chance to wave goodbye to 2020 cannot come quickly enough.

Alongside the varied and continuing impacts of the pandemic, we have experienced extreme weather events, reduced crop yields and legislative frustration around the Agriculture Bill and protecting our food and farming standards in future trade deals.

However, even without Covid-19 restrictions, any New Year celebrations may be muted. While coronavirus has dominated the headlines, the prospect of ending the EU transition period without agreement has loomed ever larger, with all the implications that has for our crucial food and farming industry.

We know that, whatever happens, the way we trade with the EU will change next year and businesses need to prepare.

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But an NFU briefing published in October makes concerning reading about the potential consequences of starting 2021 in a “no deal” situation. It highlights how a combination of uncertainty, lack of clear government guidance, added costs and complexity will lead to potential disruption in agri-food markets from January 1, with an adverse effect on farm incomes.

The briefing raises the prospect of fresh perishable produce rotting in lorries due to border disruption, labour shortages on Norfolk farms without a new seasonal workers’ scheme and potential short-term trade disruption.

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Just to quote a few examples, we may not be able to export eggs to the EU, there is a risk that poultry meat exports may be rejected, as they must have a certificate from a UK competent authority, and trade in all products containing flour from the UK may be affected as we will lose the mutual recognition we have with EU member states.

READ MORE: Deal or no deal - how can East Anglia’s farmers prepare for the EU transition?

One fact last year’s NFU Norfolk centenary celebrations highlighted was the resilience of farm businesses. They have faced, and overcome, many challenges in our 101-year history and I have no doubt they will overcome this one.

But at present Norfolk farmers are trying to prepare for an unknown future with limited information and time running out. Businesses need clarity on the very real impacts of no-deal, and outstanding issues around necessary authorisations need to be prioritised.

Thought must also be given to what businesses will need to cope with possible disruption, from sufficient financial support, to fit for purpose and timely information and available resources.

We may be close to midnight but there is still time to reach agreement. As the impacts of Covid-19 continue to be felt across our farming sectors, and wider society, it has never been more important to secure a tariff-free, quota-free deal with our largest trading partner, and this must be the ultimate priority for government in the coming days.

That would be something worth raising a glass to on New Year’s Eve.

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