WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 - Britain gave its official notice to the EU that the country is pulling out of the pact that has tied it to other European nations for more than 40 years and UK farmers are speaking up about their concerns.
Among them are whether they will be able to continue to use the foreign workers who have helped British farms thrive, and whether they will continue to benefit from the exports that have flowed to other members of trading block.
Meurig Raymond, president of Britain’s National Farmers Union (NFU) – no relation to the U.S. farm group - said today he’s working hard to keep those benefits, even as the UK formally and perhaps permanently withdraws from the EU.
“The NFU is already engaging heavily with key personnel in UK government – last week I met with Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom and was pleased that she shared our ambition to maintain free and open trade with the EU once we leave,” Raymond said.
The UK sold about 2 million tons of wheat, 130,000 tons of cheese, 190,000 tons of pork, 300,000 tons of cheese, 665,000 tons of milk and cream much more to other EU countries in 2015, according to a government report.
Raymond also stressed that he is in talks with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to try to make sure that farms will continue to have a plentiful supply of foreign labor to work on the country's farms and dairies.
Because there are no visas needed to travel between EU countries, a plentiful labor pool has been available for British farms. That’s likely to change because of the so-called Brexit, which was approved by voters almost nine months ago.
DEFRA, Raymond said, “acknowledged the need to ensure that future reforms to the immigration system accommodate the labor requirements of the food and farming sectors.”
The deputy president of Britain’s NFU, Minette Batters, testified earlier this month before the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on the importance of allowing foreign workers into the country.
“We have made no secret of the fact that a lack of labor will lead to a number of consequences for UK agriculture, including a reduction is the area of crops planted, a hold on investment impacting profitability and the likelihood of food price inflation for shoppers,” she said. “We also need reassurances from government that EU citizens already working here should have right of residency.”
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