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Blanchards Bailey beats Brexit gloom with support for Dorset’s agriculture and rural sector

Dorset’s environmental industry, which includes agriculture, is worth £1.5 billion a year to the local economy and employs around 30,000 people - making up around 10 per cent of the total county economy.

Yet with Brexit talks now underway the environmental industry, which includes all economic activity that depends on the food, fuel and natural resources that the environment provides, is facing dramatic changes.

The EU affects the whole food chain from field to fork. It heavily influences what farmers grow, sets animal welfare standards and offers a large supply of labour to work in the fields, processing plants and elsewhere within the sector.

In national terms, food and drink is one of the UK’s largest remaining sectors; contributing over £28 billion a year to the economy, with Europe its most significant export market. Parts of the sector have become so dependent on European migrant workers that without them businesses could collapse, according to Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently.

This dependency means businesses will have to take careful steps to ensure their workforce is legal and resilient to future changes. “Understanding what employment contracts are best for your workforce and how to future-proof your workforce is key in making sure the produce keeps coming out of your field or from your livestock. We can review your contracts or draft suitable ones with this in mind,” said Paul Dunlop, Head of Agricultural Services at Blanchards Bailey.

Further legal issues surrounding Brexit include the practicalities of the UK adopting, amending, or abolishing the 4,500 or so EU regulations covering food, farming and environmental standards that fall within the remit of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There are also questions to be answered over commercial agreements with European partners and what the future holds for subsidies post 2022.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove's "green Brexit" vision

Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently announced that farmers will need to agree to protect the environment and enhance rural life to receive subsidy payouts. In setting out his vision for a “green Brexit”, Mr Gove explained that the current system, which he criticised for giving money to some of the UK’s wealthiest landowners, did not recognise “good environment practice” and encouraged wastage. He claimed it will cease after the UK leaves the EU.

Mr Gove said: “There are very good reasons why we should provide support for agriculture. Seventy per cent of our land is farmed - beautiful landscape has not happened by accident but has been actively managed.

“Agriculture is an industry more susceptible to outside shocks and unpredictable events - whether it’s the weather or disease. So, financial assistance and mechanisms which can smooth out the vicissitudes farmers face makes sense.”

Early indications suggest there could be increased opportunities with new trade partners, increased exports, a reduction of red tape, more flexibility with food labelling, control over imports, increased sales of produce within the UK and possibly the opportunity for efficient farming to prosper. There are also likely to be new business models to find additional revenue streams. For example, various farms are already growing crops for ornamental and pharmaceutical purposes.

New opportunities

Paul Dunlop said: “Alongside other professionals and businesses, Blanchards Bailey’s agricultural team provides legal and practical advice to clients about ways of diversifying, maximising assets, developing land, dealing with succession planning, growing their share in the market, setting themselves apart from others and we introduce them to other clients or third parties that might be able to assist.”

BBC’s Panorama programme highlighted the diametrically opposed views in the sector. Some farmers said leaving the EU will mean higher prices, lower quality and less choice on the shelves.

Farmers' Union President Barclay Bell told the BBC some were now considering whether they should continue. "In the back of farmers' minds I think there is that realisation now that things are going to change," he said. "In our discussions around the countryside, we are finding that some of the businesses are starting to think about where their businesses might be going and can they survive in the future, whatever it may look like."

Others see it as great opportunity to address inefficiency and design a new mode of food production for the next generation. They believe that essentially it will mean the “same game” but with more control and a “whole new set of rules”.

The reality is that no one knows how Brexit will impact the agricultural sector until it actually happens; whether good, bad or indifferent. “Preparation and taking time to consider the opportunities is what matters most,” suggested Paul Dunlop. “There are steps that can be taken now which will mean agricultural and rural businesses are better prepared and more resilient to Brexit.”

Dorset's thriving agriculture and rural sector

But what is certain is that Dorset has a thriving agricultural and rural sector. The region has garnered a reputation for its glorious array of producers; many of which distribute their popular products across the country and abroad. In fact, this local pride and celebration of Dorset’s rich variety of produce is demonstrated with the annual Taste of Dorset Awards in which Blanchards Bailey has introduced an exciting new category “Best Vineyard or Distillery”.

The sector is set for changes - whatever they may be - so knowing where your business stands and protecting your assets moving forward will be vital, as well as knowing how to access relevant subsidies.

Paul Dunlop concluded: “Ensuring businesses are safeguarded against any possible changes is something that is obviously important. But knowing what your rights are and what actions you can take against potential changes is something worth getting to grips with now to help you prepare for the future.”

The nature of the changes and opportunities available to agricultural and rural businesses is wide ranging but with 90 years’ experience, Blanchards Bailey can help agricultural and rural businesses explore sales and purchases of estates, farms and land, draft licences and tenancies. The firm also assists with secure lending on agricultural property, development arrangements, options and pre-emptions, implementing renewable energy developments, tax and succession advice, land, business, family, employment and probate disputes, as well as with HR issues and to make sure paperwork is up to date. 

To know where you stand and ensure you are in a position to prosper then contact Paul Dunlop on 01258 483607 or email agriculture@blanchardsbailey.co.uk