Brexit & Welsh agriculture Views of the industry

The UK's membership of the EU has shaped all aspects of agricultural life in Wales, from the system of subsidy under the Common Agricultural Policy to the protections that exist for agricultural produce such as Welsh lamb and Conwy Mussels.

The decision to leave the EU could have a dramatic impact on the industry in Wales. In Mid Wales agriculture accounts for more than 1 in 10 jobs, and in some sectors as many as 90% of exports are destined for EU markets.

Agriculture is central to Welsh cultural and commercial life, it maintains the health of rural and remote communities and promotes the Welsh language.

30% of [...] farmers and people that work on farms [speak] Welsh

Glyn Roberts, Farmers' Union of Wales

Our inquiry

The Welsh Affairs Committee is a cross-party group of MPs appointed by the House of Commons to scrutinise UK Government policy relating to Wales.

Our inquiry investigated the implications of the decision to leave the EU for trade and agriculture in Wales. We took evidence from representatives of agricultural producers and the farming industry in Wales, and ministers of the Welsh and UK Governments.

As part of our evidence in Westminster, we heard from representatives of Young Farmers Wales, which represents the interests of young farmers across Wales.

Laura Elliott, Dafydd Jones, Cennydd Jones, Jacob Anthony, and Caryl Hughes give evidence to the Committee in Westminster

We also heard the views of farmers at Royal Welsh Agricultural Society Winter Fair.

Our objective was to better understand both the positive and negative consequences of Brexit and make recommendations to the UK Government to protect and promote agriculture in Wales.

Here we present the views of the people we heard from. You can find out what we think and read our conclusions and recommendations in our report.

David T.C. Davies MP, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee
In this inquiry we were keen to explore both the potential risks and possible benefits of Brexit. People we heard from told us of their genuine fears but also gave cause for optimism. This report addresses the challenges facing Welsh agriculture and gives voice to the industry in Wales. - David T.C. Davies MP

The impact of leaving the EU: what you told us

Trade and tariffs

We heard that the EU market was very important to Welsh farmers.

What we have going for us is that we have a brand that is established worldwide in Welsh lamb and Welsh beef and, on the back of that brand, which has been developed over many years, there is a great deal of trade—mostly within the EU27.

Gwyn Howells, Hybu Cig Cymru

Echoing the views of farmers we met at the Winter Fair, the risk of no trade deal being agreed was emphasised by those who contributed to our inquiry.

What we must avoid at all costs is reverting to WTO rules or tariffs on sheep meat because our exports would be decimated. We would have a tariff rate of between 45% and 85% added to the cost of the product and, therefore, we would not be able to export them.

Gwyn Howells, Hybu Cig Cymru

We also heard that the possible imposition of non-tariff barriers was a serious concern to agricultural producers.

As producers of what are often very perishable products, Wales’ farmers cannot afford to see their produce held up at international borders by red-tape and bureaucracy.

National Farmers' Union Cymru

But we have heard that not all sectors will suffer after Brexit.

In most scenarios, some sectors win, others lose. It just depends on the nature of what the sector is producing and what our trade position is. [...] Sheep meat is a good example because we are a huge net exporter to Europe. The flow tends to be from us to them, but there are sectors where it is the other way around. Dairy would be a good example; beef would be another one.

David Swales, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

Visiting the Winter Fair at Builth Wells, farmers told us that frictionless trade with the EU is the desired outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

Witnesses in Westminster were equally clear.

I would like to remain within the Customs Union. [...] It is a vital avenue for our food and for everything we produce in agriculture.

Laura Elliott, Chairman, YFC Wales

We have, since the outset, supported a lengthy transition whereby we stay in the customs union and the single market.

Nick Fenwick, Farmers' Union of Wales

Our witnesses emphasised the importance of the Protected Geographical Indicator status for the export of Welsh produce.

Source: Hybu Cig Cymru
The PGI status on Welsh lamb is really important in terms of exporting to France and more particularly to Italy.

Glyn Roberts, Farmers' Union of Wales

Securing new markets

We heard that world-wide export opportunities exist for Welsh agriculture.

There are very fast-growing markets around the world where there is a big expansion of middle-class consumers. Those tend to be markets where the EU does not already have particularly good market access. There may be opportunities with Brexit for the UK to strike trade deals, to get preferential access to some of those fast-growing markets, particularly in Asia-Pacific, which may offer growing opportunities for us into the future.

David Swales, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

It is important we embrace the challenges and we create opportunities out of them. [...] It is vitally important that we embrace that opportunity and create new markets.

Cennydd Jones, Senior Member of the Year, YFC Wales

And our witnesses underlined the role of the UK Government in helping to open up new export destinations.

Ministers would hopefully devote more time to visiting destinations, making connections, ensuring trade arrangements hopefully are in place and not getting side-tracked. Agricultural trade in these trade agreements is often put to one side and not taken forward because of sensitivities in the country you are trading with. It is not to be put off by that but to devote time and resource to opening up these markets.

Gwyn Howells, Hybu Cig Cymru

But there was concern that Wales is lagging behind its international competitors.

New Zealand are significantly better than us in terms of product innovation and there would be opportunities to really work together there. In terms of access to the Chinese market, they are able to sell some of their lower-value cuts at a much better price, to get a better carcass balance, because they have access to that market.

John Davies, NFU Cymru

We heard that countries such as New Zealand have implemented reforms to extend the shelf life of lamb, which make it easier to export.

The reason they are doing that is that if they can get product with a longer shelf life they can use slower ships from New Zealand, with less cost, and therefore they can gain some margin.

Gwyn Howells, Hybu Cig Cymru

To catch up, Welsh producers will have to develop new products to exploit the market.

The sheep and lamb industries and the processing sector need to innovate more. We need to help them to change because consumer profiles are changing, in terms of consumer needs. We need to be competing with other proteins—be they beef, fish or chicken—in a much more versatile and innovative way.

Gwyn Howells, Hybu Cig Cymru

And in some cases this may enable Welsh producers to enter premium markets.

In the case of pig meat, a lot of our exports to China are in the form of those cuts of the animal that have a relatively low value in our domestic market. Offal is a good example: very low value and in some cases producers and processors have to pay to have product disposed of. Lots of those things are delicacies in China and have a premium price to them.

David Swales, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

However, witnesses were concerned that new trade deals could open the UK to imports produced to a lower standard and create an unfair playing field.

One thing that we are keen on is a level playing field. We have that standard of quality of what we produce and that must be reflected in what comes into this country; it is only fair.

Dafydd Jones, Vice Chairman and Rural Affairs Chairman, YFC Wales

As a union we have always asked for equivalency, to make sure that [...] food that is coming in is on the same par as our own meat.

Glyn Roberts, Farmers' Union of Wales

I think Welsh farmers will change, evolve and adapt, as they have in the past, in the future. We need to ensure that we provide a reasonably level playing field to do that. If we can rely on each and every Member of Parliament to ensure that, there is a bright future.

John Davies, NFU Cymru

Public procurement

We were told that public bodies in the UK should prioritise the purchase of British produce.

It was pleasing to see our British troops sail in British ships built in our British shipyards, built with British steel. That is really pleasing to see that. We support that. It would be really good if we could have some of our troops fed on British food as well, and there is real opportunity in terms of the health service, schools and hospitals. We could benefit from delivering some good, healthy products into those establishments. There are some opportunities there and it would be excellent to be able to avail ourselves of those.

John Davies, NFU Cymru

Subsidy and support

The majority of farm income originates from Common Agricultural Policy subsidy and the evidence was clear that continued subsidies would be necessary to maintain the income of farmers.

Around 80% of Welsh farmers’ income comes from the Common Agricultural Policy. Leaving the CAP has the potential to have a profound impact on the sector, particularly if future levels of support are reduced or there is disparity in terms of the level of support available to Wales’ farmers, compared to the rest of the UK home nations or the residual EU.

NFU Cymru

Nevertheless, simply providing public subsidy to make up for the decline of exports would not be a satisfactory approach and would not benefit the wider agricultural supply chain.

If we do produce a lot less meat, milk and any other products that come from agriculture, are we in the position then that we could lose the critical balance? To me it is not only the farmer but it is the auctioneer, it is the abattoir, it is the butcher. I don’t want to lose that critical mass not only for agriculture but for infrastructure or rural life in rural Wales as well.

Glyn Roberts, Farmers' Union of Wales

How the future subsidy system will operate has yet to be determined, but we heard broad support for the principle that future support should be aimed at public goods.

They need to come in a slightly fairer way so you are actually rewarding the people [...] who are looking after the land and giving the public good back.

Jacob Anthony, Member, YFC Wales

There is also a clear desire for the sector to move forward without being so reliant on subsidies.

It will be absolutely great if the market delivered a fair return, and that is obviously our ambition going forward. To deliver that, we need to ensure that Welsh food is properly branded and gets the fair return that it wants. We all want a fair price going forward for what we produce

John Davies, Deputy President, NFU Cymru

We were told that, in the future, agricultural support could be aimed at helping the sector innovate and try new things.

Any future agricultural policy is going to have to reward innovation and those farmers who are willing to be brave and try new things and push the industry forward.

Laura Elliott, Chairman, YFC Wales

We also heard that the agricultural sector needed clarity about what future agricultural policy would look like in the future, in order to manage their farms.

Things are changing fast and I feel at home we are not going to know enough information quick enough to be able to adapt to it,

Caryl Hughes, Member, YFC Wales

Farming is a long-term planning session. Every day you are planning months ahead.

Dafydd Jones, Vice Chairman and Rural Affairs Chairman, YFC Wales

The Welsh Government's priorities

As part of our inquiry we heard from Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs for the Welsh Government.

She underlined the importance to Welsh agriculture of trade with the EU.

What they want is unfettered access to the single market. That is clearly the top priority. They are very concerned about tariffs. There is no point in having this wonderful Welsh food and drink if there is no market.

Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs for the Welsh Government

She also highlighted the challenges Brexit posed for agricultural policy in Wales.

The Welsh Government needs to address the substantial challenges of exiting the CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy through working closely with industry, communities and other partners to create dynamic, forward-looking Welsh agriculture and fisheries policies.

Welsh Government, Securing Wales’ Future, Transition from the European Union to a new relationship with Europe, 2017

The UK Government's position

The UK Government has said that leaving the Common Agricultural Policy has created an opportunity to design a new policy which meets the particular needs of the UK.

Now we are leaving the EU we can design a more rational, and sensitive agriculture policy which promotes environmental enhancement, supports profitable food production and contributes to a healthier society.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit, February 2018

While the design of an agricultural policy for Wales will be a matter for the Welsh Government, the UK Government has recognised that it will need to provide the funding for this.

The Government is committed to delivering an approach that works for the whole of the UK and reflects the needs and individual circumstances of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On future trade with the EU, George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told us he would be fighting for a future UK-EU relationship which met the needs of Welsh Agriculture.

I’ll be supporting Welsh agriculture by arguing passionately for a free trade agreement and a customs agreement that mean we can have frictionless borders and tariff-free trade across the board.

George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

What happens next?

Conclusions and recommendations

We have taken the views of all the people we heard from onboard and formed a series of conclusions and recommendations. You can read what we think should happen next here.

Our central recommendation is that the UK Government should work with the Welsh Government on a strategy to support and promote Welsh agriculture post-Brexit. This should cover:

  • Proposals for investment and support to drive improved innovation and productivity in the red meat sector.
  • Plans for securing new trade agreements with international markets which present the greatest opportunities for Wales.
  • An assessment of the resources required to market Welsh produce in new markets.
  • Details of how ministers will promote Welsh produce in new markets.
  • Ways of attracting British workers into the agricultural sector.
  • Plans for seasonal workers’ schemes.

The Government must consider our findings and should formally respond to the recommendations made within the report.


We would like to thank all those who gave evidence to our inquiry and those who met with us during our visit to the Winter Fair at Builth Wells.

Images provided courtesy of NFU Cymru and Hybu Cig Cymru.

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