What did we learn at the Guild Of Agricultural Journalists Brexit meeting?

Author: John Giles

Last week, I was invited to attend a meeting of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists at Kenilworth, where they had gathered together an excellent panel of 5 speakers to peer into the future for UK agri-food post-Brexit.

The evening was made all the more relevant by the dramatic events unfolding in Westminster that afternoon, with one of the panellists admitting he had rethought what he might want to say several times that day as a result!

The GAJ bought together a great line up as follows:

  • Tori Morgan, NFU EU Exit and International Trade Adviser
  • Christopher Price, CLA Director of Policy and Advice
  • Paul Rooke, AIC Head of External Policy
  • Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive
  • David Swales, AHDB, Head of Strategic Insight

all ably under the control of the GAJ chair, Catherine Linch. The evening covered a huge amount of ground. It would be almost impossible to summarise the whole evening, but some of the key points raised and discussed (to me!) seemed to include as follows:

  • The sheer amount of effort and time that appears to be going into finding solutions to very complex issues involving a whole range of stakeholder organisations across the UK, and at times, the rest of the EU too
  • The general view that a “no deal” for UK agriculture would be a disaster with the imposition of high WTO export tariffs especially damaging
  • The plan to phase out BPS type payments to farmers under the proposed British Agricultural Bill on a staged basis over a period of up to 9 years and the impact this might have on the cost of agricultural inputs, land and rental values
  • The difficulty of, but also the opportunity to, develop new trade deals with the likes of China, India, the US and Oceania countries in the interim period, even if we stay in a backstop type agreement
  • The serious problems that would be bought about by difficulty if securing labour for all stages of the supply chain
  • Even if there had been no Brexit, there would have still been serious problems to address in the way the EU operates in the agri-food sector from a UK perspective
  • In emerging export markets, most success will be found by UK food companies in high-value niche markets and there are still lots of opportunities for well informed and go-ahead businesses. This is even in the face of strong competition from Oceania based suppliers, the US, Latin America and other EU countries who have often been active in these markets for some time already
  • Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we will need to see the development of more resilient and sustainable food production systems and supply chains in the future
  • The whole subject of public funding for public goods still needs to be addressed, especially with regards to food production and will become increasingly important and relevant in the coming years
  • Any attitude of “let’s wait and see what happens” post Brexit needs to be robustly challenged.  Businesses need to be planning for what might happen in April 2019 now. Some businesses run the risk of finding commercial life very difficult indeed in the short term if they do not. Small scale businesses in the supply chain might be especially at risk
  • Businesses need to do everything they can to ensure they are in the top 20% of performers - benchmarking is fundamental to this
  • Increased efforts need to be made to translate some of the great R & D work being undertaken down to farm and processor level

This was a thought-provoking evening, with plenty of food for thought on the drive home. There was a dual sense of optimism for the future, tinged at times with salutary comments on what might happen if we do not manage a positive outcome to Brexit negotiations by spring 2019.

There seems plenty of opportunity for further developments at a political and industry level in the meantime.

And by the way – anyone looking for a “port – a – loo” anywhere near the M25 next April - you can forget it – they have all been commandeered already. Ouch!


John Giles is the Divisional Director, Agri Food, Promar International