The Government’s plans for UK agriculture post Brexit could wipe out traditional farming in Devon, putting farmers out of business and leaving our fields empty of cattle and sheep, says David Chalmers, Parliamentary spokesperson for the Torridge and West Devon Liberal Democrats.
Stephen Middleton, whose family have been raising cattle and sheep at their farm near Ashreigney for four generations, says that farmers are still reeling from the effects of Storm Chiara and Storm Dennis, but now face a whirlwind of changes to the way they operate which will test many to the limit.
Farmers do not yet know what access they will have to overseas markets which account for about a third of sheep meat produced, a quarter of pork production and 15-17% of beef produced here, with around 90% currently going to EU countries.
They are worried about the prospect of trade deals which might see an influx of cheap imported meat produced to lower hygiene standards.
Mr Middleton said: “The biggest threat to us is a US trade deal which would see our Devon-produced meat being undercut by sub-standard hormone-treated beef, chlorine-washed chicken, or from animals that have been kept in such insanitary conditions they have been pumped full of antibiotics.
‘Farmers are furious that, following the reshuffle, the Government seems to be going back on its previous assurances, and I don’t believe that consumers want to be fobbed off with low quality meat that is currently banned on health grounds.”
Subsidies received under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are being phased out to be replaced with an Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme which will not be tied to food production or farming at all. Although the Government has pledged to maintain the current budget available for farmers until the end of the current Parliament, Direct Payments will be phased out over a five-year period, with swinging cuts of up to 25% already announced for 2021.
The Defra leaflet ‘Farming is changing’ states that the new ELM payments will be made ‘regardless of whether the recipient chooses to continue farming or not’ and that payments could be used to enable farmers to retire.
It says that they are looking at the possibility of giving farmers who want to retire a one-off payment in place of any further Direct Payments they would have been entitled to – a clear indication that the Government knows that some farms will not be viable and is expecting closures and withdraw from traditional farming activity.
David Chalmers, who fought the Torridge and West Devon seat for the Liberal Democrats, said: “The impact of this package of measures will have very serious consequences for our local economy and for the environment we love.
‘EU funding has been a lifeline for our area, not just for farmers and their suppliers, but for rural businesses and community services, tourism, infrastructure and what is left of our fishing industry. The Government say that new funding schemes are being developed, but who thinks they will look after the interests of the family farm or rural businesses here in Devon?
‘Farmers will already be making their own calculations about how much they will lose, but these cuts are likely to affect us all in ways we do not expect. For example, Dartmoor and Lundy Island benefit massively from payments made through the Common Agricultural Policy.
‘The new immigration proposals are also of concern to farmers and food processing businesses throughout Devon which rely on immigrants for seasonal labour. If they can’t harvest their crops, this will have a knock-on effect on hauliers, on farm shops and the price of goods in the supermarket.
‘Farmers are the new miners. It’s more important than ever that we stand up for local people and local farmers to protect everything we love about this beautiful area of the country.”