Following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the wave of uncertainty that has rippled through the nation has been widely discussed. Unsurprisingly, when conducting a survey of our client’s thoughts on the major issues for their businesses, results showed that for the rural sector, both trade and agriculture exports, and Farm Support Payments, are causing the highest level of concern, each selected by 54% of respondents.
With the EU receiving 66% of the UK’s agricultural produce, and acting as the source of 70% of our imported goods, the loss of such a vital trading partner is understandably troubling. Farm Support Payments remain key to the majority of farmers’ income, and overall profit – however, confirmation that all subsidies will be honoured until 2020 is a positive step.
Moving forward, we would welcome confirmation of tariff free trade within the EU, as it is mutually beneficially for the UK to continue to trade with its closest of neighbours. The potential of a restricted trading market is undoubtedly the most pressing issue facing the rural sector, and in an ideal world, the UK would be free to conduct business as usual once Article 50 is triggered. However, the decision is one that will be politically convoluted, and so any final solution is likely to follow suit.
At such a time, support for the rural sector needs to manifest itself as payments for public benefit. Some such issues will be more discernible than other, and yet the environment, flood defence, access, amenity and heritage all remain crucial. Just as land ownership is a long term investment, the agreements surrounding these factors will need to be stable and enduring.
As more people opt to live in urban, built up environments, many will enjoy the opportunity to escape to the countryside, and we must ensure that those who live and work there are able to benefit. Public access agreements, and improving the transport links to the rural areas of the country are essential aspects to the ongoing UK policy, to sustaining the flow of city dwellers.
Diversification was identified as the area clients viewed as most important for funding, second only agri-environment support; a variety of income streams is helpful to any business, and many farms and estates have managed to develop several income streams. In fact, some now receive far more income on their land from alternative activities. We live in a world that is constantly changing, and with technological advances rapidly breaking new ground, location is becoming less of an issue in terms of connectivity.
What is abundantly clear is that the rural sector has a defined and vital place in the wider economy – while we have yet to see the full impact of the leave vote, the message from throughout the regions is that the land market continues to hold firm, and we welcome a positive start to 2017, and all that it may bring.
Click here to download the full analysis of our survey.