Brexit roadtrip - Gillian Sedgley (Livestock farmer, Cumbria)


“I know a lot of people say: when we come out of Europe, we won’t be as tied to regulations and rules. But, I don’t want any of that to slip really, because I think it’s a good thing. I think we should be strict in what we do, looking after the environment as we do. And the standards we have should be maintained. Because that’s one thing we’re good at in this country, farming alongside the environment to produce a good product.”

Gillian Sedgley runs a farm in the Yorkshire Dales with her husband Will, with 1600 sheep and 60 suckler cows on 364 hectares of ground rented from four landlords in the Lune Valley on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. We’re meeting on the 4th of March, three days into the lambing season, which means I’m lucky to steal Gillian away from her farm for a moment.

How do you see Brexit affecting your business?

“Right now I believe 40% of British lamb goes into Europe, which is the worrying part for me, really. If we come out of Europe by the end of March, there will likely be a tariff on our lamb of nearly 50%, which would make it very expensive on the world market.”

“Then at the moment we see in the headlines that America is putting a lot of pressure to bring cheap food into this country, and lower our food standards, which I believe would be very detrimental to our agricultural system.”

How do you plan for the future in this context?

“So last October was ‘topping time’, when we have to decide how many lamb we want to have in spring. We were considering the uncertainties of our sector, and Brexit. ‘Do we lamb more sheep, do we lamb less?’. And we just thought ‘Well, this is what we do. We have to pay the rent on this land. We have to stock that land with sheep to manage it correctly.’ So we decided to stay as we were. We are working to produce lamb under contract in the future, meaning we’d have a guaranteed market and a set price for all our lambs, preferably on the domestic market.”

“We’re also looking to see how we can improve our farm to be more competitive to possible growing, cheaper imports. One thing we could do is only finishing our fat lambs of grass instead of concentrates, but one big problem is that our tenancies are only short term. To finish lambs on grass we’d need to invest a lot in getting the grass right, nutrition, new seeds, and that all costs money. So if we made those investments, and 12 months down the line we’re giving notice that we have to leave the land, that money’d be lost. In a way I’m hoping for us as tenant farmers that our current situation might open the eyes of land lords and land agents, that these short term agreements aren’t sustainable in the long run. You can’t run a business from twelve months to twelve months. We need more security.”

“We’ve been trying to start that conversation for ten years now. And it’s amazing, recently the land agent said: ‘You can have the land for as long as you want’. But at the moment we’re very dubious about signing anything long term because we have no certainty about our viability after Brexit.”

What do you anticipate will happen on the 29th of March?

“My dad is absolutely certain it will be five to midnight and then Europe will back down. And you know what, I’m that fed up with it, I don’t listen to the news anymore, I don’t look at the newspapers anymore. It’s so out of our hands now, part of me doesn’t care anymore. That’s what I really hate about this situation, I hate talking like this, being so negative. I’m usually a really postive, optimistic person.”

Maarten Kuiper