Brexit roadtrip - Adam Bedford (regional director National Farmers Union North East, York)

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Adam Bedford has been regional director for the North East National Farmers Union (NFU) for close to three years now, representing 6,000 farmers and growers in Yorkshire, Durham & Northumberland. Before, Adam worked for four years at the British National Farmers Union in Brussels.

How did the NFU prepare for the referendum? Did the organisation campaign for a specific position?

“So prior to the referendum, we did a number of different pieces of work. First we analysed the nature of the relationship between the UK and EU in farming terms. How much do we trade? Where do rules stand and how are they implemented? We did a round of meetings with farmers on that and then commissioned independent research by Wageningen University, to look at the economic impact on UK agriculture in the event of a vote to leave.”

“There were then a number of scenarios underneath that. What type of trading relationship would you have? What would be the levels of support available to UK agriculture, and then: what would it look like in each individual area, sector and by farm. So then we did meetings with farmers, to talk to them about that. And then our council of elected farmers - who represent the different regions - had a meeting before the referendum was held. They passed a motion that their view was, based on the evidence in front of us, as a body of farmers it would be better for UK agriculture to remain.”

“Now the reason why we took stand was, in the referendum campaign there are rules dictated by the Electoral Commission around what you can and can't say, and how much you can spend in a in a campaign period. So we didn't actively campaign, we didn't tell farmers how to vote, but we took a position based on that evidence in order to spend money talking to farmers about the referendum. So I probably did about 25 meetings in this part of the UK, talking to farmers about the agricultural implications of remain or leave.”

Has your job been very different since the referendum?

“Yeah I think it has. One of the difficult things is, doing the job that we do, there are lots of issues to discuss in agriculture and environment, but at the moment it's almost like all roads lead to the Brexit discussion. There’s uncertainty for farm businesses that we’re representing, there's a lot of uncertainty around policy and everything else. So if you’re trying to progress anything else it’s near impossible. There’s a lot of issues outside of Brexit that we could be, should be talking about, that are clouded by Brexit.”

“On a farm level, that uncertainty slows down investment decisions, people will hold off on things, and might not be moving forward as quickly as they would’ve done. There will be opportunities that arise but one of the things I've been saying to farmers, probably since the referendum is: the outcome of the referendum, whatever your political views, means that farmers will be making decisions about what the future looks like for them in their business rather more quickly than they might have imagined. And that's just life, that's not a partisan political statement or positive or negative about Brexit, but it’s bringing into sharp focus the need to think of ‘what do we want to do’, ‘how is this going to play out?’.”

What is Brexit about to you?

“Brexit seems to be many different things for many different people. And I think that's part of the problem that's come out, because from our side as a farmers organisation, we were discussing the referendum in agricultural terms. But obviously when people went to vote, whichever way they voted, they're all voting as individuals. And we all have our view that way on a personal level, but it could be that we have a different view when we're in the business.”

“One thing the Brexit discussion has done, it’s really put food at the centre. Whether that's been a discussion in the media on migrant workers and immigration, agriculture will be used as an example. Or trade issues. You’ll have seen the past two, three weeks it’s all about what the discussion with the US would be like if it comes to trade. And obviously it would be a broader trade deal, but the focus is straight to food. What is the impact on food safety and security, on our own agriculture? All of the tariff discussions in the past days: focus on food. That’s because agriculture and food production are such sensitive discussions when it comes to trade. But it's right up there front and centre. And in some ways that does mean farming and food are talked about more. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. People are starting to think ‘What do I want my food to be like?’ ‘What standards of production do I want?’.


Maarten Kuiper