Food and farming

Farming, fishing and the environment

Key Questions

What do we want from farmers and how much we will we pay for it?

What will the effects of Free Trade?

Can we rescue our fishing rights and industry?

How do environmental issues fit with farming?

Relevant facts

In 2015, the UK received £4.5 billion of subsidies and in total we are receiving £30 billion between 2014 and 2020.

62% of our food is produced in the UK.

62% of our food exports go to the EU but this is only 3% of their imports.

70% of our food imports come from the EU but it is only 8% of their exports.

There are more than 5,000 EU laws relating to farming and the environment

Subsidies are paid in different ways in each of our countries.

70% of the land area of the UK is farmed.


The role of farming

After Immigration, the future of agriculture is the most important and wide-ranging problem that taxpayers need to resolve. It affects everyone, every day in the UK through our food, our air, our climate and our countryside. Although farming is at the root of the industry, all the issues are intertwined and  they can not be picked off one at a time .

Who will supply our food and what will it cost?

62% of our food is supplied by UK farmers and 27% is imported from the EU but we represent only a small share of its exports and imports.  We justify this high level by saying that we need food security but if this is cut by reducing subsidies or relying more on foreign suppliers then the price of food is likely to rise: the £ has fallen, there will be tariffs, and farmers will go out of business. For example, under the Free Trade Agreement tariffs ….

Who will look after our countryside and what will it look like?

Although agriculture employs under 2% of the UK workforce 70% of the UK is countryside that is mainly owned and managed by farmers. If they go out of business the UK will look very different but if we encourage a more entrepreneurial approach then there could be many benefits from Brexit.

There is a strong argument for completely rethinking the farming policies to encourage a more entrepreneurial approach, to choose which areas that should be farmed or just managed, and to encourage more efficient farmers. This concerns planning, communication, tourism, ownership, land prices and general farming practices. It needs some original thinking and long term political commitment.

The yield could be improved by using chemicals that are banned in the EU and processes that are politically unacceptable in the UK.

Who should be subsidised and what are the conditions for subsidisation? Who decides the environmental impact of modern farming and what are the criteria for that decision?



If subsidies are cut then it could cause serious social and environmental problems. However, farmers are adaptable people and, although it would be bad in the short term, if land prices and rents fall it will give younger, entrepreneurial farmers a chance to enter the industry and the industry would find new sources of income.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

The CAP has been moving away from subsidising production towards paying for what is done on the land. Currently the EU is committed to pay subsidies to farmers until 2020 and the government has underwritten this for the UK if we leave the EU before then. There are no commitments beyond this date.

When the UK exits from the EU, other countries will have to pay the shortfall to make up for the lost contributions – this could be more than €1.5 billion and so they could be keen to keep us there for as long as possible.

UK farmers

The UK received £4.5 billion in subsides in 2015: 75% go straight to farmers to support production (but they must include some conservation), and 25% of the payments support farming in more difficult areas, protect the environment and conserve wildlife. 62% of our food is produced in the UK (the rest is mainly from the EU) and If we want to maintain this level of food security then we will have to support farmers since the returns on our land are not high enough.

The subsidies are on average 55% of the farmers’ income but this varies widely according to yields, prices and geography – most hill farmers depend on them for survival. They vary across the UK and receipts per person in Scotland and Wales are more than twice the receipts in England. This could be a very important issue for Scottish voters in the Referendum.

Although it employs under 2% of the UK workforce, it is of major importance to many rural communities and to maintaining the countryside.

If subsidies are cut then it could cause serious social and environmental problems. However, farmers are adaptable people and, although it would be bad in the short term, if land prices and rents fall it will give younger, entrepreneurial farmers a chance to enter the industry and the industry would find new sources of income.

The Farmers Weekly poll in April came up with the result that 58% of farmers back the Out campaign.


The EU has created piles of regulations for farmers (there are more than 5,000 EU Acts applying to farming) that are time-consuming to obey and often appear to be more suitable for other EU countries and they are far more rigorously enforced by our Government. It is clear that the EU has improved biodiversity, animal husbandry and food standards and these regulations would probably not change on exit. However, there have been instances where the Commission’s decisions are definitely not backed by sensible thought.

On 19th May the Commission failed to renew the licence for glyphosate because France and Italy were going to vote against it and Germany abstained. It highlights the problems of being in a minority.


Vote Leave

Professor Buckwell’s report to the NFU

NFU Online NFU report on the implications of an exit from the EU

Farmers Weekly poll

European Commission on rural development

Glyphosate debate


The EU’s fishery policy aims to make sure that there can be fishing that is “environmentally, economically and socially sustainable to provide food and to support the fishing communities’ but its policies and subsidies have been a disaster. They have resulted in serious overcapacity of boats and excessive fishing by large trawlers that have pushed our smaller fleets out of business.

If we exit then we will be able to control our coastal waters with the help of our neighbours although fish do not obey border lines and it will be difficult to stop the chronic overfishing elsewhere.


Exiting EU briefing paper

A failed policy

The Environment

The European Union’s environmental legislation addresses issues such as acid rain, the thinning of the ozone layer, air quality, noise pollution, waste and water pollution. The Institute for European Environmental Policy estimates the body of EU environmental law amounts to well over 500 Directives, Regulations and Decisions.

The EU started with high ideas in the Environment but it has struggled to put them into place as each country had its own agenda.

In the UK the environmentalists are strongly in the In camp because they say that the EU legislation has been the main reason that we have been meeting targets and cleaning up our air, water and beaches.

A report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy was very pro-EU and the benefits that it had brought to the EU’s environmental policies although it does comment on whether the rules are always relevant to the UK.

No-one has said what will happen to the rules on environmental protection if the UK leaves the EU.


Chartered Institute of ecology and environmental management

Institute for European Environmental Policy report on the influence of EU policies

Tariffs and Ireland

Tariffs and other trading arrangements

The EU is very protective of its farming sector and even in the recent Canadian trade agreement it kept tariffs and quotas on some agri-foods. The average tariff on agri-foods is 12% but they go up to 42% on dairy products and this will be an important part of any negotiations.

We might negotiate better trading agreements with non-EU countries but the EU is still going to be our largest trading partner for some time and we will have to obey their rules as well as the extra costs of import licences and documentation.


Southern Ireland

An exit will be very difficult for Ireland for many reasons but not least because it relies on the UK for 53% per cent of its food imports. It will not want to return to having border controls with tariffs and quotas and on exit they will push for special agreements.


Centre on European Reform on the effects of Free Trade outside the EU

Proposals of Exit during campaign

We could sign treaties with non-EU countries that will reduce costs of imports

Less regulation of farming will cut costs and encourage investment

Every country has some support for food production – it is just spent differently

The UK government is better placed to decide what the UK needs for farmers

We will keep the laws that protect our environment and standards

The CAP is not effective at supporting sustainable and viable farming

We should control our own seas