Student farmer left worried for ‘pastures new’ after Brexit

Jemima Green making organic cheese Credit: Jemima Green

A young farmer from Cumbria has expressed her fears for her future as we get closer to leaving the EU at the end of this month.

Jemima Green , 20, a student at Harper Adams University, thinks that the loss of single farm payment schemes and huge tariffs on food may lead to many farms in her home county of Cumbria folding if they fail to adapt in light of Brexit.

Miss Green said: The single farm payment, there’s literally so many farmers who rely on it , my dad relies on it because you get paid about £30,000 a year.”

Families like the Green’s are not on their own in worrying about subsidies being cut after the 31st December. Government statistics show that 58% of farmer’s income in the UK comes from subsidies.

The government will phase out the current British Payment Scheme subsidies to make way for their new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) payments which will come into place in 2024. 

The new method will mean that farmers must prove they are providing “public good” functions such as clean air, clean water and better soil quality. However, sceptics worry that the ELMS scheme will not be beneficial long-term for farmers.

Baroness Sue Hayman, Shadow Spokesperson (Environment,Food and Rural Affairs) in The House of Lords said that the new reforms do not go far enough to help farmers.

She said: “It needs to take into account that farmers are food producers, not just conservationists and there’s not enough balance in that. I think what we need to see from the government is more detail that actually takes all that into account so that farmers can plan.”

Many agricultural groups have expressed fears that the government has not provided farmers with enough information to bring the new ELMS scheme into place.

Adam Day, Managing Director at The Cumbria Farmer Network outlined his fears that farmers have not had enough direction to implement the policy.

He said: “I don’t think many farmers are worried that they will adapt to that and rise to the challenge . The difficulty is at the minute we have no idea what the actual pathway is.”

In addition to the issues around the new schemes being introduced after deadline day, some farmers are worried that the government’s strategy does not go far enough in ensuring the welfare of animals that will become part of the UK’s food supply.

Debates have been had over the Prime Minister’s openness to forging deals with America to import chlorinated chicken once the UK leaves the European Union at the end of the month.

Jemima Green told of her worries at the prospect of such deals, she said: “After Brexit I think it will be so competitive ,more factories, bigger buildings, bigger scales .I think the welfare will go down a lot ,especially now with the US trade deal we have on the chlorinated chicken and stuff, we’re getting that now which is just absolutely disgusting.”

The NFU projects that farm incomes would crash by 60-80% in a no-deal Brexit Scenario, with tariffs on food rising from zero to 62% on lamb,85% on beef and 45% on cheddar cheese if the government fail to reach an agreement with Europe by the end of this month.

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However, there are farmers in Cumbria who share the government’s more optimistic view on the country’s withdrawal from Europe.

Chris Ladds, 28, a dairy and sheep farmer from Benson Hall Farm, Kendal believes that the adaptations he and his family have made to their farm in the past few years have helped to unintentionally prepare them for Brexit.

He said: “Because we’ve sort of spread our wings in different things we’re already set to make money in different ways and all the same ways basically.”

He believes that if farmers are willing to make changes like his family have, such as the setting up of a caravan park for tourists, then they will be able to prepare themselves for the challenges Brexit may pose.

The government has made steps to reassure worried farmers that they are doing everything to improve the current system and replace it with a better alternative.

In a speech to farmers and environmental groups at the end of last month, George Eustice, Environment Secretary, told farmers that the changes would lead Britain to being an agricultural world leader.

Mr Eustice said: “We want farmers to access public money to help their businesses become more productive and sustainable, whilst taking steps to improve the environment and animal welfare, and deliver climate change outcomes on the land they manage.

“Rather than the prescriptive, top down rules of the EU era, we want to support the choices that farmers and land managers take.

“If we work together to get this right, then a decade from now the rest of the world will want to follow our lead.”