UK Government’s Backstop Alternative

After weeks of speculation interspersed with non-papers, the UK Government formally tabled its proposals on an alternative for the Backstop on 2nd October. In his accompanying letter, the Prime Minister stated that he believed the proposals were a “reasonable compromise” and represented a “broad landing zone” in which a deal could take shape. Whilst a draft legal text of the new Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland was also presented to the EU Commission’s Task Force 50, this document was not made publicly available. Instead, a 7-page explanatory note has been published by the UK Government and is accessible via: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-proposals-for-a-new-protocol-on-irelandnorthern-ireland

Proposal Key Points

  • EU-Aligned Regulatory Zone: covering both agricultural and industrial goods would be created on the island of Ireland. This would include not just sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations and agri-food goods but would also include regulations relating to “all goods”, and is thereby intended to eliminate regulatory checks for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Early indications suggest that this is being viewed positively by the EU as it directly addresses the problematic SPS issue which is relevant to over 40% of cross-border trade in Ireland. It also means that there would be an expanded range of checks on goods shipped from GB to NI as currently it is mainly live animals, plant and fertiliser products which are checked. However, the proposals also state that there would be “unfettered access” for NI goods entering GB.
  • Regulatory Zone Contingent on Consent from NI Institutions: to be given on an ongoing basis, before the end of the transition period and every four years thereafter to overcome what the UK Government sees as a democratic deficit if significant sectors of the NI economy are governed by laws over which it has no say. This would also include an ability to exit certain areas of regulatory compliance, or to withhold consent to laws becoming applicable. In such cases, arrangements would not enter into force or would lapse (after 1 year), and arrangements would default back to existing rules, although it is currently unclear which rules these would be (UK rules?, previous EU rules?). As the Northern Ireland Executive has now been suspended for over 1,000 days, this presents significant problems to the EU as it could theoretically give the DUP a veto over the application of the rules – something which is not available to other non-EU entities. Even if the Stormont assembly becomes functional again, what happens if gets suspended again in the future? Do decisions then fall back to the Northern Ireland Office or both the UK and Irish Governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement? The EU is going to scrutinise this issue closely.
  • Northern Ireland to be fully part of the UK Customs Territory: it would no longer be part of the EU’s Customs Territory once the transition period is over. This means that all customs processes (including checks) to ensure compliance would need to take place on trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That said, the British Government is keen to point out that the vast majority of customs procedures (e.g. declarations) would take place electronically, with some simplifications, and any checks would be conducted at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain, but not at the border. It is seeking a commitment from the EU to never conduct checks at the border in the future. In effect, any customs checks would take place away from the border in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, effectively establishing two customs border zones in each jurisdiction – one would be as part of the UK Customs Territory (NI) and the other as part of the EU Customs Territory (Ireland) as the map below depicts. This is highly problematic for the EU, especially Ireland, as in some ways it puts a degree of separation between the customs regime in Ireland and that of the remainder of the EU. It also raises multiple other questions over how unscrupulous traders would be identified as any price differentials created by varying tariffs or differences in VAT and excise would be quickly exploited by rogue traders, often with no registered business premises. It raises the prospect of mobile customs units becoming visible in the border region which could prompt a negative reaction by local communities.
  • Special Provisions for Small Traders: linked with the previous point, simplifications in customs procedures would have SMEs as a core focus in order to minimise the regulatory burden. This includes a trusted (authorised) traders’ scheme to make compliance easier when trading between NI and Ireland. It envisages “temporary admissions” to permit short-term movements of goods across the border (presumably to facilitate trade shows for instance). In addition, some small traders would be exempted from certain procedures and may even be exempted from paying duty altogether. There would also be additional support for traders in most need to assist them with compliance. These provisions present significant challenges. For instance, could larger firms simply create multiple companies so as to qualify for exemptions? From an EU perspective, particularly given difficulties that the UK has had in the past in dealing with VAT fraud, there would be major questions on whether such proposals are legally operable and would undermine the integrity of the EU Single Market. 
  • Future UK-EU Trading Relationship: is still envisaged to consist of a comprehensive free-trade agreement and much of the detail not mentioned in the Government’s proposals (e.g. how Rules of Origin would be addressed) would be dealt with after the UK formally exits the EU. Again, the EU will have major difficulties with this as it is unlikely to view such arrangements as a legally operable insurance mechanism to prevent a harder border emerging in the future on the island of Ireland.

Overall, the UK proposals represent a significant step forward, but it is highly questionable whether an agreement (definite landing zone) is in sight as a result of their tabling. A formal response from the EU is expected on 3rd October (afternoon). It is likely that this response will have as a core focus, the three key objectives of the backstop: preventing a hard border re-emerging on the island or Ireland, preserving north-south cooperation and the all-island economy, and protecting the EU’s single market and Ireland’s place in it. It is obvious that having separate customs regimes in both jurisdictions would constitute a hardening of the border. The proposals also raise questions for the competitiveness of the all-island economy and creates some discomfort for Ireland as part of the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Therefore, a lukewarm response is likely from the EU. That said, it will be keen for talks to continue and the UK proposals merit further discussion at least.

Ultimately, the EU is likely to call for closer customs alignment between NI and Ireland/EU. An indication by the UK that its tariff levels for sensitive products (particularly agri-food) would remain similar to the EU’s, but within an independent UK trade policy, would help. This would also help UK farmers to safeguard against competitive pressures from the world market, if tariffs were suddenly reduced significantly. 

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients.

For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/

Impact of a No-Deal Brexit on Farm Profitability

With the UK due to leave the EU on 31st October and the possibility of a No-Deal Brexit becoming more likely, The Andersons Centre (Andersons) recently conducted research on behalf of the BBC to assess its potential impact on the profitability of UK farming, 9-12 months after Brexit taking place.

To undertake this analysis, Total Income from Farming (or TIFF) is a useful measure to look at the farming industry as a whole. It is an aggregate, so hides differences between sectors and individual businesses, but provides a simple measure of the profit of ‘UK Agriculture Plc’. In technical terms, TIFF shows the aggregated return to all the farmers in UK agriculture and horticulture for their management, labour and their own capital in their businesses. To allow for yearly variations in weather conditions and exchange rates for example, a three-year average (2016 to 2018) was used as the basis for comparison.

Taking into account previous studies, some of which have been undertaken by Andersons, a top-level assessment of the impact of both a Brexit Deal and a No-Deal on the output of each farming sector was compiled in addition to an estimation of the effects of both Brexit scenarios on key costs which are incurred by UK farming. This assessment considered the potential impact of tariffs (including the UK’s March 2019 announcement on its No-Deal Brexit tariff schedule), non-tariff barriers and tariff rate quotas. Importantly, it was assumed that support levels to UK farming were kept constant as the UK Government has committed to farming receiving current levels of support until the end of this parliament (scheduled to be 2022).

Under a Brexit Deal scenario, a small decline in profitability (3%) is projected; however, under a No-Deal, an 18% decline is forecast.

Impact of Brexit on UK Farm Profitability under a Deal and No-Deal Scenario

Sources: The Andersons Centre and Defra

Like all top-level industry averages, there is significant variation within the overall estimate. For instance, where output is concerned, substantial declines are forecast for sheepmeat (-31%), whilst output for cereals, milk and beef production are also down. Some increases are projected for horticulture and intensive livestock (pigs and poultry) provided there is sufficient labour available for undertaking operations.

With respect to costs, some decreases are forecast for inputs which would be affected by the introduction of lower UK import tariffs under a No-Deal scenario. Examples here include animal feed, fertiliser and plant protection products. However, other inputs such as veterinary costs are projected to rise as it is anticipated that there would be a significant increase in demand for veterinary staff to assist with border inspection operations.

An 18% decline in profitability would equate to a hit to UK farming generally of almost £850 million. With many farms already struggling to break-even, the projected hit on profitability in some cases likely to significantly surpass the industry average, the viability of many farming businesses will be in jeopardy. Unsurprisingly, grazing livestock farms (particularly sheep) would be the most exposed given the output declines mentioned above, but a No-Deal would also result in a significant downturn for dairy farming in Northern Ireland, given its reliance on having its milk processed in the Republic of Ireland.

For further information on how a No-Deal Brexit could affect farming and to address the trade-related risks arising, Andersons is running a webinar on Thursday, 12th September to provide further information on how businesses can prepare. Further information is available via:

https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/1384475755831393282

Impact of Trade Barriers on UK Beef and Sheepmeat

Beef and sheepmeat trade with the EU could plummet by over 90% under a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.  This is one of the headline findings of a study recently published by the AHDB in collaboration with QMS and HCC.  The report, complied by The Andersons Centre, looks at the impact of trade barriers on the UK beef and sheepmeat sector post-Brexit.  It examined two scenarios; a Brexit Deal and a No Deal Brexit.  Some of the main points include;

  • Trade impact under a Brexit Deal scenario is relatively small:  total exports would decline by about 1% in volume terms (imports 0.8% lower), driven by EU27 declines.  Sheepmeat exports to EU27 are forecast to decline by 1.5% whilst corresponding imports would be 3% lower. These declines are chiefly due to Non-Tariffs Measures (NTMs) – i.e. the increased trade ‘friction once the UK was not part of the Single Market.  There would be minimal changes to non-EU trade.
  • Significant upheaval under No Deal: trade with the EU27 would plummet (by 92.5%) due to the imposition of tariffs, TRQs and higher impact of NTMs.  Sheepmeat trade with the EU would be almost completely wiped out.  Substantial declines in trade with the EU27 would also ensue for beef – exports down by 87%, imports declining by 92%.  Somewhat better market access for beef compared to sheep, due to TRQs, would permit some UK-EU trade to continue.  The introduction of a new 230Kt TRQ for UK beef imports would cause non-EU imports to soar by over 1,300%.  This would lower prices and drive-up UK consumption by approximately 7%.  Sheepmeat imports from non-EU countries are not anticipated to change whilst consumption is projected to rise by 14% due to declining prices.
  • Price impacts: there would be small declines under a Brexit Deal scenario (-1 to -3% respectively).  Under No Deal severe price declines would be seen.  Sheepmeat is particularly exposed (projected 24% price fall under No Deal).  Downward price pressure for beef (-4%) under No Deal arises due to competition from lower priced world-market imports.  This would be exacerbated if significant volumes of Irish beef enter the UK barrier-free via NI.
  • Value of carcase meat output: under a Brexit Deal, output would decline by an estimated 1.7% whilst under a No Deal the decline would increase by nearly ten-fold (-11.7%) with sheepmeat output nearly 31% lower which would be devastating for incomes in the sector.  Growth in exports to non-EU markets under No Deal would be insufficient to compensate for the loss of access to the EU27.

Projected Impact of Trade Barriers on Domestically-Produced Beef and Sheepmeat (Farm-Gate Level)

Sources: Defra (2019) and The Andersons Centre (2019) *Baseline Figures derived from Defra data.

  • Similar Impacts at Farm Level:  Andersons’ Meadow Farm model projects a 27% decline in profitability (£68 per Ha versus the current £93 per Ha) under a Brexit Deal, but the farm would still be profitable provided it can maintain its current support levels.  Even with support unchanged, Meadow Farm starts to generate unsustainable losses under No Deal with a projected deficit of £45 per Ha, equating to a £7,000 loss.
  • Domestic Market Opportunities: could arise for domestic producers if trade barriers reduce the competitiveness of imports.  However, the proposed access granted under additional TRQs in the beef sector would diminish this.  There are also fears that future changes to standards might make imports more competitive, thus limiting domestic market opportunities even further.
  • Frictionless trade with the EU27 as a third country is not currently possible: and looks set to remain so for at least a decade as the required technology has not yet been developed, let alone tested.  Long-term, technology can contribute to reducing this via e-certification systems, but friction cannot be reduced completely.  Post-Brexit increases in trade friction are inevitable.
  • Most significant non-tariff measures relate to value deterioration: value deterioration (especially fresh meat) arising from border-related delays associated with physical checks and sampling (associated with sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) regulations) is of most concern to industry and is the biggest contributor to non-tariff costs generally.  Its impact on frozen products is much lower but still a factor in terms of potential penalties imposed on delayed consignments.
  • Uncertainty about future border arrangements:  under No Deal centres particularly on trade on the island of Ireland which the UK Government has claimed would remain frictionless.  If there are also no checks on NI-GB trade, whilst any exports routed from Dublin to Holyhead would be subject to tariffs and regulatory checks, the potential for re-routing meat from the Republic of Ireland via NI and onwards to GB without any checks, could result in substantial volumes of Irish beef being placed on the UK market (beyond the 230Kt TRQ) by the ‘backdoor’.  If significant volumes enter the UK in this fashion, substantial price declines for UK beef farmers would ensue.
  • Disproportionate impact on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs): arising from higher operating costs, fewer loads dispatched and a lower propensity to avail of special authorisations such as AEO status (which confers a lower risk on operators from a regulatory authority perspective).
  • Inflationary pressures: particularly for farm-level imported inputs from the EU27 (e.g. fertiliser, medicines etc.) but also elsewhere.  These costs are unlikely to be absorbed by the supply trade and would be passed on to consumers and/or to primary producers (i.e. farmers).  Any meat price rises are likely to cause consumers to increase their propensity to substitute with cheaper sources of protein, thereby making it more likely that beef and sheep farmers would beat the brunt of price pressures.

The study concluded that a Brexit Deal based on a comprehensive FTA and close customs and regulatory arrangements with the EU would be far preferable to a No Deal Brexit, which could have a devastating impact, especially for sheepmeat.  Whilst developing overseas markets will be crucial to the long-term success of British beef and sheepmeat, close attention must be paid to protecting existing markets, specifically the domestic UK market and the EU27 export market.  The study also found that even if the UK had never entered the EU (or EEC) in the first place, it is highly likely that markets such as France would still be vital to the British sheepmeat industry due to proximity.  To minimise any upheaval post-Brexit, the report states that having a comprehensive mutual recognition agreement between the UK and the EU is crucial.

The report’s findings were similar to several previous studies; however, this study goes into significantly more detail on how non-tariff measures could affect the sector.  It also provides useful insights on the implications of a No Deal Brexit for carcase balance in the sheepmeat sector where it estimates that up to 22% of the annual UK lamb kill (3.1 million head) could be affected.  This would be a major challenge to a sector where approximately one-third of the lamb crop is exported each year.  If it wasn’t already clear, this report underscores the importance of a good Brexit Deal for the grazing livestock sector.  The report is available via: https://ahdb.org.uk/knowledge-library/red-meat-route-to-market-project-report 

 

EU Agrees Mercosur and Vietnam Trade Deals

On 28th June, twenty years to the day that negotiations started, the EU and Mercosur reached a political agreement on a substantial free trade deal.  The EU estimates that, when fully implemented, the deal will reduce tariffs its exporters face by approximately €4 billion.  On a busy weekend for Cecilia Malmström, EU Trade Commissioner, the EU also signed the free trade agreement with Vietnam which had been largely negotiated in 2018.  Both deals are meant to send a message that, with the backdrop of the US-China trade dispute and the increased friction likely to result from Brexit, that the EU is open for business and keen to conclude trade deals with other global partners.   These announcements follow similar recent deals with Japan and Canada.  From an agri-food perspective, the Mercosur deal is attracting most attention as it could have significant implications for sectors such as beef, poultry and sugar.

EU-Mercosur Trade Deal

The details of the Mercosur deal are complex.  In summary, the South American trade-bloc, consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, would see tariffs removed on 92% of all its imports to the EU over a period of 10 years.  Focusing on the agri-food sector, tariffs will be cut on 82% of imports coming from Mercosur, with remaining agri-food imports subject to more partial liberalisation.  Notably, this includes beef where a quota of 99,000 tonnes will be permitted to be exported to the EU at preferential rates.  This will be implemented over a five-year period.  Additional volumes of imports will also be allowed of poultrymeat (180,000 tonnes) and pigmeat, (25,000 tonnes), with import restrictions on sugar and ethanol also eased.

From an EU export perspective, tariffs will be eliminated on 91% of its total exports and 95% of agri-food exports.  The dairy sector in particular will benefit from improved market access, with a quota of 30,000  tonnes for cheese, 10,000 tonnes for skim-milk powder and 5,000 tonnes for infant milk formula (Mercosur tariffs are currently at around 28% for dairy products).  These volumes will be phased-in over 10 years.   Whilst improved market access for dairy was welcomed in some quarters, market experts opined that demand for dairy products in the Mercosur market is quite lethargic and is hampered by high inflation, sluggish economic growth and a volatile political environment. 

Mercosur has also committed to protecting the Geographical Indications of 357 EU food and drink products.  The EU is also keen to point out that its food standards on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) matters would not be compromised in any way.  The EU-Mercosur deal also has a Sustainable Development chapter which commits both parties to upholding their Paris Climate Accord commitments

European beef, poultry, sugar and ethanol producers are expected to come under increased pressure from cheaper imports from South America as a result of this proposed deal.  The agreement has already attracted condemnation from the EU’s farming lobby with organisations such as Copa-Copega and the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) complaining that agriculture had been sold out to facilitate a wider deal.  Tellingly, the EU Commission also announced a €1 billion fund to help farmers to adjust to the market disturbances that could be potentially caused by the EU-Mercosur trade deal which indicates that there will be a significant impact on European farmers.

The feedback from the EU farming and food industry points to trouble ahead because, as our previous article on 26th June noted, the agreement thus far has only been at the political level and a number of hurdles remain.  Firstly, it will be translated into legal text before being put forward for ratification by EU Member States and the European Parliament.  Like the EU-Canada (CETA) agreement, there can still be several twists and turns in the process and the deal could be scuppered by a Member State or by a regional Parliament such as Wallonia.  Already, there is significant pressure being exerted on the Irish Government not to back the deal and it is anticipated that there will be similar calls elsewhere.

Any on-farm effects from this deal remain some way off, and in any case would be phased in over several years.  By the time this happens, the UK is likely to have left the European Union, so the impact of this particular deal might be negligible.  That said, the EU-Mercosur deal increases the competitive threat of South American products in European markets.  It is also likely to offer a template for any future trade deals between the UK and Mercosur which the UK is likely to prioritise post-Brexit. 

EU-Vietnam Trade Deal

This pact will eventually see duties removed on 99% of the EU’s imports from Vietnam.  Whilst the formal text has been approved by the European Commission, it still requires ratification by the European Council (representing the EU Member States) and by the European Parliament.  This is expected later this year.

From an agri-food export perspective, Vietnam with its population of around 95 million represents a fast-growing South East Asian market.  Its dairy industry is valued at approximately £5 billion and it currently imports 80% of this demand.  Average incomes have also been rising thereby driving demand for beef and pork products in particular, although the US and New Zealand account for the vast majority of these imports.

As with Mercosur, the UK’s pending exit from the EU means that it may not benefit significantly from this deal.  That said, much will depend on the length of the transition (implementation) period arising from the eventual Brexit deal and the UK’s access to third country market that have free-trade deals with the EU as part of this.  However, the South East Asian market is lucrative and the UK needs to prioritise the development of such markets as it resumes its independent trade policy.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Arable Market Thoughts

It never rains, it always pours!  By early June, some were concerned about the dry soil conditions, by the end, the concern was flooding.  Most of the crops that had been flattened have picked up, but not all, increasing the risks of Fusarium.  Combinable crops now require sunshine to help them ripen with good quality and bushel weights.

The other thing that has fallen over this month (which we had been warning would happen) is the premium that the old crop wheat carried over new crop.  Sooner or later the two crop prices have to merge, and they did this decisively in June.  In fact old crop long-holders will be feeling frustrated by the chart clearly showing July 2019 futures values in January of £180 now being worth £145.  Also, new crop wheat prices have taken a sharp turn upwards, now clearly ahead of old crop.  This will encourage any buyers to take short term cover and close the gap.  Farmer sellers with adequate storage might be tempted to carry the grain over if it is in satisfactory condition.

Globally, the wheat crop is overall healthy and abundant, with expectations from the International Grains Council that it will outstrip consumption to leave slightly higher stocks this coming season.  This has helped explain the price falls in the market.  Maize though, the main combinable crop in the world, is thought abundant but not likely to match annual demand, so stock levels are expected (by the IGC) to decline again this year.  This will be the third decline since 2016/17 from 363 to 284 million tonnes; a substantial fall.

Soybean stocks are also thought likely to return a small decline in physical stock level after the 2019/20 season, although only by 1 million tonnes.  This is a tiny change after such a sharp rise in stock from 25 million tonnes to the current 53 million in only six years.  The question of how much oilseed rape will be grown in the UK is concerning many; whilst we have reported the poor OSR conditions on many farms this year, we have not pointed out that other arable farmers are quietly very happy with the condition of theirs. Some has been grubbed and replaced, other fields are looking excellent.

Bean crops are largely looking good throughout the country, and with new crop reaching good prices, perhaps now is the time to book some in.  Currently, we would expect bean crops to outperform their overall dismal performance from last year.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Milk Production

According to BCMS data, March saw births to a dairy dams reach 137,000 head, some 3% higher than the five-year average and the most calf registrations in the month of March since recording began in 2003.  There are a number of possible reasons for the increase and the rise is probably a combination of all of them.  Cows were in good physical condition when they came into season last year, having been housed longer due to the bad winter and being put out to pasture when the grass growth was improving but before the drought had impacted.  The increase may also be due to more businesses switching from all-year-round calving systems to spring block and also those already on a spring block system tightening their calving window.

The result has seen an increase in cows at the peak of their lactation during the spring flush.  UK milk production has been at record levels throughout 2019 so far.  Peak delivery may have been reached earlier than in recent years when a long-term high of 37.74m litres was delivered on 26th/27th April.  Throughout April deliveries were running about 4% above last year’s levels.  During the first quarter of 2019, cumulative production was 3.4% higher than for the same period in 2018.  The increase in production is seeing downward pressure being put on farmgate prices as processors are having to sell unplanned increases in milk deliveries on the spot market at 13-15ppl.

However, globally, milk production is tight and is expected to remain so throughout 2019 which appears to be helping UK farmgate prices to a certain extent.  Margins have been squeezed in Australia, the US and the EU through high input costs and low farmgate prices leading to a reduction in production.  In addition, demand is expected to remain strong from China throughout the year due to the impact of African Swine Fever in the country.  It is thought dairy cows might enter the beef market as the price of beef increases due to the demand for alternative protein sources to replace pork, thereby reducing milk availability in the country.  In the second half of 2019, UK production growth is expected to slow, due to a smaller herd and a drop in fertility, a knock-on effect from the hot summer last year.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle

Many will have noticed there are considerably fewer bright yellow fields than last year, and some a much paler shade of yellow than their owners will have wanted.  Evidence suggests that in the UK a slightly lower amount of oilseed rape was planted last autumn than previous the year.  A considerable proportion did not have a good start, possibly in part as a result of the very dry soil conditions at the time, but also the concerns of Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB).  This a meant an unknown quantity, but perhaps 8% of the national crop, written off before winter.

That which made it to the spring, is also in rather poor condition now, with another 5-10% being written off largely in the central and Western parts of England.  This will either be replaced with another crop or fallowed, or in some cases, left in poor condition, its owner resigned to the fact it will probably generate a poor yield.  It is concerning that reports are emerging that CSFB is having a damaging effect on the emerging sugar-beet crop too.  It is too early to speculate on yield impact, but we will continue to monitor this situation.

Ironically, reports from Lincolnshire suggest some bee-keepers are concerned there is insufficient OSR to supply enough nectar to produce honey from their hives.  Perhaps the loss of Neonicotinoids has had adverse impacts even on the insects that the ban was designed to protect.

What the impact of CSFB on OSR in the British farmer’s rotation in future might be is unclear, but many growers and agronomists have suggested their rotations and crop recommendations will not include OSR for at least three years.  The OSR area is in long-term decline; its area topped out in 2012 and has fallen every year since then apart from once.  In 2019 we could harvest the lowest rape area since 2004, and possibly the smallest crop since then too.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Land & Rental Values

Latest results from the RICS/RAU Land Survey reveal a mixed picture for farmland values.  The data covers the second half of 2018 and shows the Transaction-Based Measure falling back considerably to below the benchmark £10,000 per acre level.  The average price for H2 2018 was £9,571 per acre (£23,650), some 16% down on the first half of the year and 8% lower than the corresponding period in 2017.

The Transaction-Based measure can be quite variable as the number of sales is relatively small (and the series also includes sales with a residential element).  The Opinion-Based measure is a hypothetical estimate of surveyors of a bareland price for agricultural land.  This has moved in the opposite direction for the second half of last year to £7,638 per acre (£18,873 per Ha).  Within this, arable land values recorded a small decline, but pastureland experienced an increase.

RICS/RAU Rural Land Values 1998-2018

Looking ahead, contributors to the survey suggest uncertainty in the marketplace is affecting demand with a net balance of -16 expecting demand to rise.  In contrast, they are expecting more land to come to market over the next year, a net balance of +6.  No data is available on contributors’ price expectations for the coming year.

The Survey also includes information on land rents in England and Wales.  All categories recorded an increase in the second half of 2018, compared to the first six months of the year.  The results are in the table below:

Farm Rents in England & Wales – RICS/RAU
 Half YearArable (£/acre)Pasture (£/acre)
AHA 86ATA 95AHA 86ATA 95
H1 2017751465394
H2 2017781415893
H1 2018761445793
H2 20188014960104

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

How Has Farming Changed Since the UK was Last Outside the EU?

UK farming will soon be operating outside the European Union for the first time since we joined the, then, EEC in 1973. In preparation for its round of Spring Seminars, Andersons the Farm Business Consultants have looked into the archives to compare UK farming 46 years ago with today’s sector. The table below shows some key indicators for the agricultural sector. (All financial figures are in real terms at 2017 prices.)

At the farm level, the industry is smaller in monetary terms and less profitable (although land values are much higher). However, the wider food chain has done an impressive job in boosting food exports and feeding households cheaply. Food self-sufficiency has not changed greatly. For those advocating a completely free-trade approach to food after Brexit, it is interesting that food self-sufficiency was close to 30% in the 1930s – the last time it was tried. The industry is also doing ‘more with less’, in terms of people, land and animals.

Clearly, UK farming is a very different industry to that of the early 1970’s. However, there is also an argument that being part of the Common Agricultural Policy for 40 plus years has held the sector back from what it might have achieved. The next decade or two seems set to unleash even greater change.

There is some trepidation about what the future might hold for farming. One of the ways to reduce uncertainty is to gain the best understanding of the current situation and possible future direction. Andersons are running a series of Seminars at thirteen venues around Great Britain in March, looking at the prospects for UK agriculture in greater detail. This includes the opportunities post-Brexit and the issues the sector needs to tackle, whatever sort of Brexit emerges. For more information please go to www.theandersonscentre.co.uk/Seminars

Ends

No. of words: 444

Author: Richard King

Date: 13th February 2019

This news release has been sent from Andersons, the Farm Business Consultants Ltd, Old Bell House, 2 Nottingham Street, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire LE13 1NW. For further information please contact Michelle Turnbull on +44 (0) 1362 688761 or +44 (0) 7904 436288.

Brexit Reaching Tipping Point

On 15th January, the Government suffered a historic defeat (by 230 votes) in its first bid to get Parliament to accept the Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.  As a result, the sense of chaos and uncertainty in Westminster has accelerated. Whilst it is clear that the Parliament does not want this deal (in its current form), what is not clear is what sort of deal there would be a majority for.  The EU is clear that the ball is now in the UK’s court and the Prime Minister, assuming she wins today’s confidence vote, needs to set-out a plan by Monday.  Following last month’s article, below is an update of the potential options available in the coming weeks and months.  It is likely that a combination of these will be required.

  • Cross-party dialogue: this is the most obvious first-step that the Government needs to take and the noises from Downing St. suggest that it has already started to do this.  However, such an approach does not have much chance of succeeding if additional options to the PM’s deal are not considered.
  • Indicative votes: have been suggested by several MPs as a means to break the deadlock as the votes would be non-binding. It would help to gauge what there could be a majority for in the House of Commons.  The scale of the Government’s defeat on the Withdrawal Deal shows that another vote on the current deal has no chance of succeeding unless it can be changed fundamentally.
  • Renegotiate with the EU: on numerous occasions during the Brexit process Westminster has been operating in a silo and has not sufficiently considered the EU’s perspective in the negotiations.  Whilst some form of Brexit might eventually emerge as a favoured arrangement within the House of Commons, it has no chance of succeeding without agreement by the EU.  What is clear is that the EU will not back-down on the backstop and the UK Government’s strategy of trying to isolate Ireland has back-fired at every juncture.  It is therefore clear that if the UK wants to dilute the backstop, which is detested by many in Westminster, a lighter form of Brexit will be required. Below are some of the possibilities available;
    • Norway Plus / Common Market 2.0 – both of these options are broadly similar and essentially amount to the UK being within the European Economic Area (EEA) similar to Norway.  But, in addition, the arrangement would include agricultural products and the UK being part of a Customs Union.  As mentioned previously, this option has gained traction but the big drawback is that Freedom of Movement would have to be accepted, and as this was a major reason for the Leave vote in the first place.  It is unlikely to be favoured by many in the Labour party. Added to this, the UK would not have voting rights, would probably have to pay into the EU budget, and could not strike its own trade deals.  Therefore, it continues to be very difficult to see this arrangement being successful without some form of emergency brake on immigration as a minimum, even then it presents grave difficulties. 
    • Customs Union with the EU: this is  the favoured option by the Labour party as it would go some way towards addressing the Northern Ireland border but would potentially curtail free movement.  However, on its own, it would not prevent border checks on the island of Ireland as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks would still be required.  Unless the UK could agree some form of regulatory equivalence agreement with the EU, of the kind that has never been reached before, then Brussels will continue to insist on a backstop. It would also mean an independent UK trade policy for goods would be largely redundant.
    • Free-Trade Agreement with the EU: an accord similar to the CETA agreement with Canada is championed by many Brexiteers as the panacea to the current impasse and they claim that it will also address the Irish border problem.  A cursory assessment of the EU’s Official Controls Regulations (2017/625) would show that this is simply not the case, as SPS border controls would still be required on the island of Ireland.  Such controls would of course be unacceptable to the DUP and the famed technological solutions are years away (and some doubt whether they are feasible at all). 
  • Second Referendum: this is still the favoured option amongst many Remain MPs, however, as with all other options, there is not a majority in Parliament for this and the Labour leadership is lukewarm to say the least.  Even if a majority of MPs decided on a second Referendum, the path ahead would be fraught with difficulties.  Firstly, what question(s) would need to appear on the ballot box to reflect the now diverse range of opinions in the UK (from No Deal to No Brexit).  Secondly, it could lead to social instability as there would be heated opposition in some quarters and would at least entail another six months of uncertainty.  Some would argue that another Referendum, if framed correctly, could at least lead to a definitive answer (e.g. if Leave won, then the issue is dead for a generation).  However, all indications suggest that it would be another close vote, and if anything has been learned in the last few years is that the British public do not want more of the same, no matter what the outcome is.
  • No Deal: continues to be the default option and with 72 days until Brexit, its likelihood increases by the day, particularly if the House of Commons does not pass a cast-iron guarantee that No Deal will not happen. As outlined in previous issues, a No Deal has the potential to severely damage UK farming, especially as it may well eventually encompass a liberal trade policy with respect to imports.  On 16th January, the NFU has emphasised its view that a No Deal would be catastrophic for UK farming and most business associations agree with this view.  From an Irish perspective, a No Deal also presents a major dilemma.  If it does not introduce some forms of regulatory checks on produce coming in from the UK (including from Northern Ireland) in the event of a No Deal, then this may be viewed unfavourably by customers elsewhere in the EU and non-EU, who may in-turn place some additional controls on Irish produce. Such a development would have damaging ramifications for the Irish economy, whilst the re-introduction of a hard border would have severe social consequences. In such a situation, it is therefore likely that the Irish Government would first seek to introduce temporary measures along the border (citing safety concerns), similar to what was done during the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001.  It could potentially keep these for weeks if not months in the hope that a more sustainable Brexit outcome could be achieved.  However, even such a temporary move is also likely to entail problems.
  • Extension to Article 50: all of the options set-out above contain unpalatable elements.  With the time relentlessly ticking towards the 29th of March and numerous Bills and secondary legislation still required to be passed by the Commons, the prospect of an extension to Article 50 grows by the day.  Rumours circulating in Brussels suggest that preparations are being made for a formal request by the UK for an extension and while a period of 3-months is doable (i.e. till early July) a longer period would present legal problems for the European Parliament if the UK is still a Member State and has no MEPs. Therefore, if an extension is to be accepted by the EU and its Member States, it will need to be coupled with a clear plan from the UK as to what form of Brexit or plan of action it could agree on which could be countenanced by the EU.

Overall, it now appears that an extension to Article 50 will be required and another attempt will be made by the Government to get some form of Withdrawal Agreement passed by the Commons.  It would appear prudent to do this after indicative voting to discern what sort of a deal would garner a majority, bearing in mind what would also be acceptable to the EU.  If the Government fails at the second attempt to pass a deal, much will then depend on Labour.  If it attempts another confidence motion and loses, will it call for a second Referendum?

Many questions remain. All the while, agri-food businesses have to try and cope with all of the uncertainty which does not show signs of dissipating just yet.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

UK Harvest Commences

UK Combinable Crop Harvest – What should we Expect?

The harvest is in its early stages; this year a little earlier than usual.  Over the last six weeks, the UK has received minimal or no rain (at least in England) with June receiving only 25% of the normal levels, and July just as parched so far.  Consequently, some crops across the country will have been too dry to yield properly.  Before that, of course, though March, April, and the first half of May, the UK received 50% more rain than normal, leaving those areas with strong soils and healthy levels of organic matter, with a long-lasting moisture reserve.

Crops were late emerging from winter dormancy or being planted often into cold, wet spring soils and so had a lot of growing up to do in a short amount of time.  This alone reduced expectations of harvest yield.  But it is possible that those crops on land strong enough to retain some moisture for a while may have done better than expected.  It appears that moisture held deep below the soil’s surface has, on may farms, been a lifeline for the survival of this year’s crops, with the sunshine and hot weather providing an opportunity for heavy, high bushel weight crops to develop.  It has been mentioned that this is the weather pattern that more continental countries experience every year, the Paris Basin included.  Crops on lighter soils though will presumably bring overall yield averages down.

OSR

More specifically, oilseed rape, whose harvest is now well under way, needed minimal swathing or spraying in many parts this year.  Some crops are dry but not completely mature, with brown seeds.  As yet, yields appear to have held up well, albeit maybe not a record season, even after moisture adjustments are accounted for.  Farmers should be careful not to harvest oilseed rape too dry as it can incur penalties if moisture levels are below 6%.

To recap, the standard FOSFA contract for oilseed rape is for 9% moisture.  You lose 1% of price if moisture goes up to 10% and gain 1% for every 1% the moisture falls down to 6%.  Below that point, it becomes difficult for a crusher to extract oils so could be unsellable.  Certainly, a penalty such as a blending charge with wetter seed would become payable.  It is worth getting the moisture right and if you’re not sure, keep it comfortably above 6%.

Barley

The barley harvest too is under way, with moderate to good yields, and excellent quality on the whole, although it is too early to reach big conclusions about national yields.  Bushel weights are high, meaning a greater tonnage might fit in the barn than usual.  It also means those farmers who take their own grain to a store, should beware of trailer weights; overweight vehicles tend not to be prioritised for tipping, or, if more road travel is required, not allowed back on the road.  Some hauliers might end up carrying too heavy a load; it is the driver’s responsibility and could be expensive to them.  It will catch some hauliers out.

Wheat

It is possible that the very first wheat crops are starting to be cut now, but it is too early to make any useful comments about it.  More next month.

This article is from Andersons’ AgriBrief Bulletin, a subscriber-based publication which provides readers with expert, concise and unbiased commentary on the key issues affecting business performance in the UK agri-food industry and what it means for you and your clients. For further information, including a free trial, please visit:

https://agribrief.co.uk/.

Brexit: Future Relationship White Paper

(Compiled 16th July 2018)

Following on from last week’s negotiating proposals supposedly agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers, the UK Government published, on 12th July, its long-awaited White Paper setting out its detailed vision on the future UK-EU relationship.  The 98-page document has received a cautious welcome by the EU-27 who are mindful of the deep divisions within the British Government.

In the White Paper, the UK Government is essentially seeking an ‘association agreement’ with the EU of unprecedented scale and depth so that the UK can achieve a ‘principled and practical Brexit’ which respects the referendum result and simultaneously acknowledges the deep trading relationship between the two parties.  The key points from an agri-food perspective are set out below;

  • Frictionless trade for goods: at the border between the UK and the EU.  This encompasses the establishment of a free trade area for goods as a means to protect the deeply integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes developed over the past 40-plus years.
  • Common Rulebook for goods including agri-food: would seek to avoid customs and regulatory checks at the border but would only cover ‘those rules necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border’.  The White Paper identifies three broad categories of rules relevant to agri-food and fisheries:
    • Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) rules – would be included in the common rulebook.  Linked with this, the UK would ‘make an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with the relevant EU rules, with all those rules legislated for by Parliament or the devolved legislatures.’
    • Rules relating to wider food policy – this would include marketing rules that determine how agri-food products can be described and labelled.  As these do not need to be checked at the border they would not be included in the common rulebook.  Geographical Indicators (GIs) (e.g Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray Pork Pies) would also be included in this category and the UK will be establishing its own GI scheme after Brexit in accordance with WTO rules.  As part of this, the UK would open its GI scheme to both UK and non-UK applicants.
    • Agricultural and Fisheries Policies – as previously communicated, the UK will leave both the CAP and the Common Fisheries Policies, thus enabling it to pursue domestic policies which best serve the UK’s interests.  Thus, these rules would not be included in the common rulebook. For fisheries, the UK is proposing annual negotiations with the EU on access to its waters.  Some EU Member States will have significant concerns about this.
  • Facilitated Customs Arrangement (FCA): would seek to ‘remove the need for customs checks and controls between the UK and the EU as if they were a combined customs territory’. The Government claims that it would enable the UK to control its own tariffs for trade with the rest of the world. For businesses this would mean;
    • where a good reaches the UK border, and the destination can be robustly demonstrated by a trusted trader, it will pay the UK tariff if it is destined for the UK, and the EU tariff if it is destined for the EU. This is most likely to be relevant to finished goods; and
    • where a good reaches the UK border and the destination cannot be robustly demonstrated at the point of import, it will pay the higher of the UK or EU tariff. Where the good’s destination is later identified to be a lower tariff jurisdiction, it would be eligible for a repayment from the UK Government equal to the difference between the two tariffs. This is most likely to be relevant to intermediate goods.

The UK Government claims that up to 96% of UK goods trade would be able to pay the correct or no tariff upfront, with the remainder most likely to use the repayment mechanism. This is in effect combining the Customs Partnership and ‘Max-Fac’ proposals in the last year’s paper, both of which were rejected by the EU. There was an acknowledgement by the UK that this system would become operational in stages as both sides completed the necessary preparations. Given where the infrastructure is currently at, this process could take several years. The UK Government has already stated that it envisages the UK remaining part of the EU Customs Union for a year after the end of the Transition Period. This may well get extended. It is unclear what ability the UK will have to strike Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs) with other countries whilst it remains within the Customs Union.

  • Rules of Origin: agreement not to impose tariffs, quotas or routine requirements for Rules of Origin on any UK-EU trade in goods.  This would allow EU content to count as local content in UK exports to its FTA partners for Rules of Origin purposes, and UK content to count as local content in EU exports to its FTA partners.  ‘Diagonal cumulation’ would allow UK, EU and FTA partner content to be considered interchangeable in trilateral trade.
  • Trade with non-EU countries: the UK’s claims that the FCA will enable it to strike Free Trade Agreements with non-EU countries as the UK will have its own schedule with the WTO.
  • Participation in EU agencies: UK would seek continued participation in agencies which facilitate goods being placed on the EU market but conceded that it would not have voting rights.
  • State Aid: the UK would continue to apply the EU’s State Aid rules via a common rulebook. Although elsewhere in the document, the Government is seeking to reserve its right to make its own arrangements regarding tax. As highlighted in a recent article, there were questions about whether there would be limits on the UK implementing agricultural policy tools such as tax deposit schemes (e.g. similar to the Australian Farm Management Deposit Scheme) which do not comply with EU State Aid rules. This is an area that will require clarification, potentially via the Agriculture Bill due later in the year. 
  • Maintain high standards in environment, employment and consumer protection rules: includes ‘non-regression provisions’ to ensure that current high standards are maintained by the UK.
  • Northern Ireland/Ireland: taken together, the UK Government believes that its proposals (including the points set out above) would see the UK and the EU meet their commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland through the overall future relationship.  It claims that this would preserve the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK, honour the letter and the spirit of the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement and ensure that the ‘backstop’ solution of the Withdrawal Agreement will not have to be used (i.e. Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market).  The Irish Government in particular has responded positively to this as it is also seeking to resolve the frictionless border riddle via the overall UK-EU relationship.  However, the UK Government’s proposals are arguably narrower than what was envisaged in the December Joint Report which contained commitments on protecting the all-island economy and North-South cooperation. The latest UK proposals are very much focused on goods trade only (i.e. services are omitted). 
  • New Joint Institutional Arrangements: these are required to manage the future relationship in key areas such as the common rulebook, including a clear process to update relevant rules in a manner that respects the UK’s sovereignty and provides Parliamentary scrutiny.  This will include regular dialogues at leader (PM) and Ministerial levels.  There would be a Joint Committee to discuss and interpret regulations as well to resolve disputes which may arise.  At times, such disputes could be resolved via a binding independent arbitration.  These bodies would have oversight by the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) as the interpreter of EU rules, but only the UK courts (whilst giving regard to EU case law) could give judgements on rules which apply to the UK.  Here, the UK is effectively conceding that in areas where it commits to adhering to the common rulebook, the ECJ would (indirectly) hold sway. 
  • End to Free Movement: however, the UK proposes introducing new frameworks which would enable ‘UK and EU citizens to continue to travel to each other’s countries and businesses and professionals to provide services’.  In agri-food, the provision of services associated with the supply of input equipment for example, is an important consideration and whilst the UK proposals imply that such arrangements could continue along much the same lines as present, questions remain about the extent to which this will be the case. 
  • Mutual recognition of professional qualifications: including for those working in the veterinary and agri-food sectors.  The extent to which this includes low or unskilled workers remains to be seen and is unlikely to be clarified until the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) publishes its report in September

The white paper is available via: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-future-relationship-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union

Whilst there has been a polite initial response from the EU, the proposals are likely to raise several objections from their side including:

  • Indivisibility of the Single Market:  the EU will fundamentally object to the UK wanting to remain in the Single Market for goods, without accepting the EU’s rules on freedom of capital, services and movement.  This separation, combined with the potential for divergence in areas not covered by the common rulebook, could give the UK competitive advantages in years to come and could undermine the rationale for EU membership by others.  This could potentially include the protection currently afforded by GI designations to EU-27 brands (e.g. Parmesan cheese) sold to the UK if the UK decided not to continue with existing GI legal protections.
  • Trade with non-EU countries: whilst the proposals focused heavily on tariff-free access between the UK and the EU, the UK wants to reserve its right to do free trade deals with other countries, potentially including agri-food products.  Whilst the UK’s participation in a common rulebook for agri-food trade would limit the scope for cheap imports, there is still a possibility that such trade could significantly displace EU exports to the UK, if third countries met the standards required.  This would have an onward impact on domestic prices in the EU-27.  The EU is expected to push-back strongly on this to curtail any potential displacement.
  • Complexity and cost: the UK’s proposals amount to an elaborate set of mechanisms to replicate its current access to the EU across a wide variety of areas.  To some, it is akin to the arrangements between the EU and Switzerland which Brussels is keen to rationalise.  Therefore, the EU is likely to have serious reservations about the creation of new frameworks adding yet more complexity to what is already and intricate tapestry.  There is little detail in the White Paper as to how much all of this will cost, but one can anticipate that the EU will expect the UK to bear a substantial proportion of any funding involved.

Whilst many questions remain unresolved, the UK Government’s White Paper provides a credible starting point for the substantive negotiations with the EU to take place. These need to be urgently accelerated as there is a huge amount of ground to cover between now and the autumn. For the agri-food sector, the commitment to ‘ongoing harmonisation’ via a common rulebook for agri-food trade should provide some welcome reassurance for the industry generally, particularly those which are heavily dependent on EU export markets. Furthermore, given President Trump’s claim that the UK proposals would likely ‘kill’ the prospect of the US-UK trade deal, this may also be seen as a positive by those concerned with the potential for cheaper imports to undermine UK farming. That said, a lot of uncertainty remains especially given the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.

Articles such as the above are posted on Andersons’ AgriBrief website on a regular basis. If you would like further information please visit; www.agribrief.co.uk