EU referendum 2016: What do farmers think about Brexit?

The National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents 48,000 farming businesses across Britain, has decided to back the Remain campaign in the run up to the EU referendum. 

On Thursday April 18 the NFU council ruled that staying in the EU was in Britain’s best interests on balance but stressed that it respected the “diversity of views” among its members. 

NFU president Meurig Raymond said that approximately 40% of members want to remain in the EU, 20% of them want to leave and the remainder had not yet decided which way to vote. 

Mr Raymond said that the NFU council decided to support the ‘In’ campaign in order to share information but it will not be actively campaigning in the weeks ahead.  

He said: “In general terms, most farmers want to stay in the EU. Some farmers believe Britain would do better coming out and we respect that.” 

If Britain leaves the EU, many farmers are concerned about the potential effect on import and export tariffs especially for trade involving sheep, wheat and barley.

Mr Raymond said: “The biggest concern for farmers is the single market and the loss of access, particularly for the horticultural sector.” 

Farmers are also nervous about losing agricultural subsidies from the EU because the UK Treasury has previously argued in favour of reducing support, he said. 

Many famers are struggling at the moment amid low milk and meat prices, which makes them more worried about the uncertainty surrounding a Brexit. 

Mr Raymond said: “I don’t need to say how difficult it is for farmers at the moment. It is the fear of the unknown.” 

Conservative MP Owen Paterson, who helped to set up Vote Leave, said the difference of opinion among farmers was illustrated at a farmers meeting in Whitchurch, Shropshire. 

Mr Paterson said 27 of the farmers present were undecided, another 26 farmers wanted Britain to leave the EU and nine farmers wanted the country to remain in the 28-member bloc. 

The former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Farmers are very divided on this for very obvious reasons.” 

But Mr Paterson believes that farming be “much better off” if Britain leaves the EU, in part because this country could control its farming subsidies better. 

He said: “We would target it so much better and more effectively. We could spend the money so much better with so much less hassle but with better results for farming and the environment.” 

Mr Paterson described the EU as a “museum of world farming”, which opposes modern technology and takes too long to negotiate important trade agreements with other countries. 

On its own Britain could be more dynamic and would have a British representative on the World Trade Organisation, he said. 

“We are the fifth largest economy in the world. Freed of the EU, we could regalvanise world trade,” he added.  

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