The continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit is now impacting the grain trade, the NFU has warned, with British arable businesses struggling to plan ahead.
In a typical year, UK grain exports to the European Union are worth £514 million. In 2015/2016, wheat exports to the EU were worth £220 million and barley exports were worth £294 million.
But with no clarity around the future EU-UK trading relationship and what tariffs will be imposed, arable businesses and the wider supply chain are struggling to plan ahead meaning they are being more exposed to risk from a volatile grain market.
Trading opportunities with the EU are becoming increasingly limited for the UK arable industry because of Brexit uncertainty and businesses are already feeling the impact, the NFU warned on Wednesday (27 February).
NFU combinable crops board chairman, Tom Bradshaw stressed the need for a deal to be agreed to mitigate the impact on farmers, allow trading contracts to be put in place with European buyers and enable the free flow of food products between the UK and EU to continue.
He said it is 'appalling and completely irresponsible' to have this level of uncertainty at such a late stage in the process.
“It is no longer a case of business as usual – uncertainty is preventing normal trading practices from taking place today.
“We rely on simultaneous import and export trade to keep the UK market balanced, and with the vast majority of British grain exports going into the EU market it is essential that this flow of trade is maintained and protected,” Mr Bradshaw said.
At the NFU’s annual conference last week, Defra Secretary Michael Gove outlined plans to protect various sectors of British agriculture from imports produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK.
However, he did not say whether UK arable farmers would be offered any protection.
Mr Bradshaw added: “Our nation’s cereal production underpins all other farming sectors – from producing biofuels to helping to feed livestock – and its strategic importance must not be overlooked.
“It would only take the government putting minimal tariffs on cereals coming into the UK to help maintain balance on our market and offer some protection to UK growers from imports of lower standards.
“And let’s be clear, tariffs on grain have very little impact on food prices. If British grain exports are going to face EU tariffs, it’s not unreasonable for our government to reciprocate and put in place levels of protection for our own growers,” he added.
The warning follows the NFU President Minette Batters saying how it is 'unacceptable' for farm businesses to remain in constant uncertainty due to Brexit.