Spot Light on: Future Farm Policy

Defra has published a policy statement outlining its plans for farm support in England.  This is to accompany the Agriculture Bill as it enters the Committee stage in Parliament.  A summary is given below.


The plans for the ‘Agricultural Transition’ as set out in the original Statement of September 2018 remain unchanged.  Direct payments (i.e. BPS) will be phased-out starting in the 2021 year, with 2027 being the last year any will be made.  The phasing process is still unknown with only the first year’s deductions being set (see table).  Again, these are unchanged from what has been announced previously.  A few new points emerge from the document;

  • deductions in future years will depend on the funding required for other elements of the Government’s plans.
  • delinking of payments from land will occur during the Transition.  This will happen from 2022 at the earliest.  Once this is done, there will be no link between land occupation and payments, and entitlements will disappear – there will just be a right to support for the business or individual claiming in a reference period.  There will be no requirement for that business to carry on farming.  A consultation is promised on the mechanics of delinking
  • when delinking occurs, there will be no link between land and subsidy, so the cross-compliance regime will end at this point.  Defra plans to bring in an alternative regulatory regime.
  • the option to allow the delinked payments to be capitalised into a one-off lump sum is still being considered.

As Direct Payments are phased-out, various new schemes will be introduced.  The main replacement for the BPS in England will be Environmental Land Management (ELM).  The shape of the new scheme is becoming clearer, it contains strong echoes of the previous Environmental Stewardship (ES) scheme with an entry level, broad-and-shallow, tier and higher level options.  Underpinning the scheme is the idea that land managers will only be paid for ‘public goods’.  Six key categories of public goods have been set out; clean air, clean & plentiful water, plants & wildlife, beauty heritage & engagement, hazard protection and climate change, with the latter two coming more to the fore than previous schemes.  The current plan is for ELMS to be based on a three-tier model;

  • Tier 1 – a broad (and shallow) offer available to all farms. Likely to have a menu of options and be managed online.
  • Tier 2 – this will require more intensive management from farmers. It is likely that a whole-farm plan will have to be drawn up (possibly by accredited advisors).  The focus will be on rewarding farmers for positive management such as biodiversity, flood management, carbon storage, landscape heritage etc.
  • Tier 3 – this aims to get groups of landowners to work together to deliver widespread change.

As well as annual payments there will also be capital grants available.  Payment rates are yet to be set.  However, unlike previous EU schemes they will not be limited to ‘income foregone’.  Therefore, payments may be set at more attractive levels.  Pilots will start in 2021 continuing through to 2024, the intention is for the scheme to be rolled out in full in 2025.

Aside from ELM, the policy Statement sets out other initiatives which may be available for farmers and foresters, these include; advice, a change to farm regulation, farm diversification via the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, animal health & welfare, and productivity support.

Just from this brief summary, it is hopefully clear that Defra has big plans now that it is free to set English farm policy.  Although it will not all happen overnight, there is still a large shopping list of initiatives.  There will be a question of whether Defra (and the wider Government) has the capacity to deliver them all, and deliver them well.  

A Monthly Briefing for UK Farmers – March 2020

  • The window for Countryside Stewardship (CS) applications in England opened on 11th February, for agreements which will commence on 1st January 2021.  This covers Higher Tier, Mid-Tier, Hedgerows & Boundaries Grants and the Wildlife Offers. The deadlines for each scheme are set out below.  The schemes are now being run under domestic legislation rather than EU rules, however there are no major changes, although the new UK regime should make record keeping and inspections less onerous.

  • Further information and the new manuals are available on the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/countryside-stewardship-get-paid-for-environmental-land-management . With the BPS starting to be phased out from 2021 and the ELM not being fully rolled out until 2025 (see later article) is it worth having another look at what the CS can offer? * also includes Wildlife Offers paper application
  • The 2020 BPS application window in England is expected to open online on 12th March, with those who still wish to make a paper claim receiving their application forms shortly after this date.  The Land Use screen is already available for those who wish to check the information is correct ahead of their application. However, note that the mapping update work is expected to continue until around 10th  In Wales, the Single Application Form (SAF) 2020 was available from 2nd March, guidance and information is available online.  The deadline without penalties is the usual 15th May.  A reminder that RPWales must be notified of the transfer and lease of entitlements by 30th April (15th May in England), for them to be used for a 2020 claim.
  • The Government is consulting on what tariffs to impose once the Brexit Transition Period ends on the 31st This is key for UK farming, as it sets the level of protection the industry has from low-cost agricultural imports from the rest of the world.  For the past 40 years, UK farming has benefited from the EU Common External Tariff (CET), but after Brexit, the Government has to implement its own trade policy.  The consultation can be found at – https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/863880/Approach_to_MFN_Tariff_Policy.pdf.  
  • The Government’s plan for a post-Brexit immigration scheme look set to cause problems for farming and the wider food chain.  Free movement of labour for EU citizens will end on the 31st December 2020.  From that point, potential immigrants from the EU and the rest of the world will be treated in the same way.  There will be a points system that will require immigrants to speak English, have a job offer, and that job to pay more than £25,600 p.a. This threshold can be lowered in some cases i.e. if the job is in a ‘shortage occupation’.  It seems unlikely that any farming jobs will be included on this list.
  • George Eustice has been promoted to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  Mr Eustice was previously a junior Minister (Minister of State) in Defra, responsible for agricultural matters.  Victoria Prentis has been appointed as the new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defra and will take on Mr Eustice’s agricultural role within the department.
  • The AHDB has released its latest version of the Nutrient Management Guide; RB209. The main changes to the revision include new recommendations for the use of Phosphate in arable crops.
  • At the time of writing Defra had not announced any derogation to the three crop rule.  It is worth reiterating that fallow land is classed as a ‘crop’ and that spring and winter varieties are also treated as separate crops based on the variety grown and not the date when sown.  In addition where a crop has been planted but subsequently fails it can be counted as the original crop (field records will need to be kept if evidence is required on inspection).  Lastly, for those who will struggle to get anything or very little drilled, there are also exemptions to the Crop Diversification rules; where more than 75% of the arable area is left fallow (or is used for temporary grass or planted with leguminous crops) the three crop rule does not apply.

Land Use: Policies for Net Zero

The way land is used in the UK will have to see a ‘transformation’ if the country is to meet its target of Net Zero emissions by 2050. This is the conclusion of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the Government’s independent advisors on climate change, in their first ever report into land use which was published on the 23rd January. As the dominant user of land in the British Isles, farming would be at the forefront of these changes.

The key recommendations in the report for farming, and the wider food sector and consumers are;

  • Low-carbon Farming Practices: such as controlled release fertilisers, improving livestock health, and slurry management
  • Afforestation and Agro-forestry: increasing UK forestry cover from 13% to at least 17% by 2050 by planting around 30,000 hectares or more of broadleaf and conifer woodland each year.  In addition, 2% of the agricultural area should be devoted to agro-forestry (planting trees, whilst maintaining the agricultural use).  Additional hedgerow planting is also recommended.
  • Peatlands:  restoring at least 50% of upland peat and 25% of lowland peat.  This equates to 7% of the UK’s land area.  Although there might be some agricultural production, it is likely to be very low intensity grazing at best.
  • Bio-energy Crops:  increase the growing of energy crops by around 23,000 hectares each year so that by 2050 they comprise 3% of total land use.  The report states that energy crops are faster growing than new woodland, but also cautions that the negative impacts of energy crops need to be managed.
  • Reducing Meat and Milk Consumption: (i.e. beef, lamb and dairy) by at least 20% per person.  The report implicitly recognises that this might be the most contentious recommendation.  It states that such a reduction would bring consumption within healthy eating guidelines, and can drive sufficient release of land to support the proposed changes in tree planting and bioenergy crops.  It calculates that, alongside expected population growth, it requires around a 10% reduction in cattle and sheep numbers by 2050 compared with 2017 levels.  Then the report points out that this compares with a reduction of around 20% in numbers over the past two decades.
  • Reducing Food Waste: the 13.6m tonnes of food waste produced annually should be reduced by 20%

In terms of how to achieve this shift, the report suggests there should be a mix of legislation, public funding and better information, advice and training.  With regards to legislation, this might include regulating enteric fermentation from livestock and steps such as a change in the diet of cattle to reduce methane emissions.  The report suggests public funding should be used to incentivise farmers to plant trees and take up lower-carbon farming practices as well as for non-carbon benefits such as helping to prevent floods and for recreational purposes.  In respect of changing diets, it suggests the first stage should be relatively ‘soft’ through persuading consumers and the wider food chain to make changes.  A second stage of regulation or pricing needs to be considered if this does not work.

The report recognises reducing emissions should not be done by producing less food in the UK and increasing imports, it goes on to state that the UK is a ‘relatively low-greenhouse gas producer of ruminant meat’.  The report outlines methane emissions are a key factor for the farming sector (unlike most other sectors, where CO2 is the biggest issue).  It also addresses how methane emissions are assessed, and equated to CO2 – there is increasing debate on this subject.

Methane has a far greater global warming effect than CO2.  However, CO2 emissions raise the concentrations in the atmosphere for thousands of years, whilst methane has mostly disappeared after approximately 12 years.  It is argued methane-induced warming is dependent on whether the emissions are sustained or new emissions.  Like much in the climate change sphere, it seems the measurement and statistics are open to interpretation, without an agreed methodology.  This may provide some comfort to the livestock sector that it is not as bad as it has been painted.  However, it would be dangerous to cling to this too closely as a reason to continue unchanged.  Society will expect farming to do its bit and many of the policies outlined in the CCC report will be part of that change.

 

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.

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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

Brexit Position Papers: Customs and Ireland

The UK has started publishing a series of ‘position papers’ on its approach to Brexit.  This, at least partly, is to counter the impression that it is ill-prepared for the negotiations compared to the EU.  It is believed that a dozen will be produced before October.  This is when a European Council Summit will decide whether there has been enough progress on the three key ‘divorce’ issues of citizens’ rights, Ireland and the Brexit bill, to move on to talk about the future trading relationship between the UK and EU.  The papers produced this month cover Customs arrangements and the Irish border.  Both papers tend to be somewhat vague on the detail of what is being proposed. 

The Customs paper reiterates that the UK will leave the existing EU Customs Union (CU) upon Brexit.  Confusingly, it then goes on to state that there should be a transition period before new arrangements come into force with ‘a new and time-limited Customs Union between the UK and the EU’.  Having a CU with the EU would limit the amount of upheaval and new procedures need at ports etc., but would also prevent the UK implementing trade deals with other countries.  It is unclear from the paper which is the Government’s priority because, despite its aspirations, the Government can’t do both. 

Longer-term, after the transition period, two options for a permanent customs arrangement are put forward.  Both are light on specifics and seem quite reliant on technological ‘fixes’ – worrying with the Government’s record on IT projects.  The first option would be for the UK and the EU to have a ‘normal’ customs border, but with the UK simplifying and streamlining where possible to make the arrangements ‘frictionless’.  The second option is a vaguely-defined ‘customs partnership’ which would see the UK ‘align’ its approach to that of the EU resulting in there being no need for a UK-EU customs border.  The paper itself states that this would be ‘unprecedented and challenging’.  Under both options the UK would be free to strike its own free-trade deals with other countries.  The paper can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/637748/Future_customs_arrangements_-_a_future_partnership_paper.pdf

On the issue of Ireland, in the position paper the Government commits to protect the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and Ireland (which predates the EU) and to uphold the Belfast (‘Good Friday’) Agreement.  As part of the latter, it is affirmed that those in Northern Ireland will continue to be able to claim citizenship of Britain, Ireland, or both.  In terms of the border, the paper states a desire to have ‘no physical infrastructure’ whatsoever.  This suggest both people and goods will be able to freely cross the 310 mile border.  How this would be squared with leaving the Customs Union and having to police imports and exports is unclear.  The paper suggests that regulatory equivalence in agri-food measures should be maintained between the EU and UK to facilitate cross-border trade and minimise disruption to existing supply chains.  Although this would be welcomed by many in the Irish food industry, it may not go down well with Brexiteers wanting to escape ‘EU red-tape’.  It may also make agreeing trade deals with third countries more difficult.  The Irish paper can be found at – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/638135/6.3703_DEXEU_Northern_Ireland_and_Ireland_INTERACTIVE.pdf

In a further development, the Times has reported that the UK will allow Visa-free access to EU citizens.  This would people to travel to the UK, live, and even look for work without restriction.  However, those wishing to take up jobs will be required to have a Government-issued permit.  The number of permits would be vary by sector.  Assuming the number of permits was adequate, this approach might serve to allay some of the fears the food and farming sector has around access to labour after Brexit.