What lies ahead for international trade?

Dartmoor farmer and CLA member Mary Alford reflects on the future of upland farming given uncertainty over the UK's trading relationships.

CLA member Mary Alford is a seventh-generation farmer in Dartmoor. She keeps sheep, native breed beef cattle, including Galloways, Herefords and Shorthorns, and grazes Dartmoor hill ponies. 

Mary’s main concern at the moment is that so little is known at this stage regarding our position on trading arrangements post-Brexit. With little preparation or guidance provided to farmers, they are unable to plan ahead - causing uncertainty.

At Dartmoor, they have the additional challenge of being in a National Park area, where they are unable to diversify easily due to planning restrictions, therefore relying on beef and lamb production. Trade dictates whether they fatten or store their lambs and, surprisingly this year, lamb prices have appeared to hold up well.

However, they will not be able to compete with cheap meat imports and don’t want to compromise their standards to compete with prices. Having travelled the world, Mary believes the industry in the UK is superb with its high standards in animal health and welfare.

Mary does more than farm, especially in the hills, where they are caretakers of the environment, and maintain areas for the public to enjoy. The industry is a jigsaw puzzle, one farmer could be responsible for the jobs of over 200 people, from farm hands, tractor mechanics and supermarket shelf stackers to the people working in the offices at Defra. Farming is the backbone for rural jobs.

Mary insists that we must be prepared for change, and earn a living from it, but we need to know the benchmarks to which they will be expected to work.