Richmondshire hill farmers quizzed Richmond MP Rishi Sunak about Brexit and life after the UK leaves the EU.
The farmers, a mixed of sheep and dairy producers, gathered at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes to hear the MP’s latest thoughts on the Brexit process.
The meeting, held before last weekend’s announcement of the agreed Brexit strategy by the Prime Minister, saw a wide range of issues raised, including planning restrictions on barn conversions and restrictions on livestock movements.
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But it was the immediate post-Brexit future which dominated the discussion.
In his opening remarks, Mr Sunak said that after guaranteeing farmers’ payments until 2022 a course had been set for a British Agricultural Policy that would reward farmers for environmental stewardship and efficient food production.
Given the continuing problems administering Common Agricultural Policy payments, he said he was keen to see a much simpler system for farm payments introduced.
Additional benefits of a British policy should include clearer labelling of food in supermarkets to distinguish British produce and more effective marketing of the British food premium quality brand around the world, particularly in emerging markets.
Of vital importance to that premium quality brand was food standards and animal welfare, he added. He welcome the Enviornment Secretary Michael Gove’s repeated commitment on the issue.
Mr Sunak, in response to questions about the importance of a trade deal for sheep farmers, said he fully understood what was a stake for the UK lamb industry and the strong demand from the French market British.
He said a trade deal was always the most likely outcome because EU farmers needed access to British markets just as much as UK farmers needed access to European markets.
He said: “Lamb is the only sector where the UK is a net exporter. In every other sector, we are a net importer so EU farmers need access to UK consumers just as much as our sheep farmers need access to the French market.
“We worry about our lamb exports, but they are worrying as much about their dairy, fruit and vegetables exports to us.”
In relation to the milk market, Mr Sunak said two years ago he had highlighted the need for the UK to invest in milk processing capacity to produce more cheese, yoghurt and butter.
“I am pleased to say that is now happening with the UK investing more in prcessing capacity than any other EU nation in recent years,” he said.
“Dairy Crest’s recent announcement of its £85m investment in cheese production is part of that welcome trend and, of course, here at Creamery we have seen investment too, with the launch of two new cheeses this year.”
The MP said such investment was vital if the UK dairy industry was to take advantage of the opportunities that would open up after UK left the EU.
“Ideally, we want to see lots more operations like the Wensleydale Creamery, talking milk from local farmers and turning it into dairy products for which there is a growing worldwide demand, particularly in China and the US.”