Monday, December 26, 2016

How and why farmers voted on Brexit

A view has developed that farmers voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. However, this view is largely based on a series of Farmers Weekly polls which were not based on a sample but on self-selected responses. Thus, if Brexiteers were stronger in their beliefs, they might be more likely to respond.

This does not mean that nothing can be learnt from these polls. The latest online poll shows that of 1,400 active farmer respondents, 54 per cent voted to leave and 44 per cent voted to remain. 28 per cent thought they would be better off as a result of Brexit and 41 per cent thought they would be worse off (21 per cent about the same). Even among those who voted to leave, there has been a decline in optimism.

Horticulture was the only sector in which more farmers voted to remain than leave. The sector is highly dependent on migrant labour from the EU.

Unsurprisingly, those sectors that have received little or no support from the CAP were most likely to vote leave (poultry, pigs, potatoes). The pigmeat sector incurs heavy transaction costs in meeting EU environmental regulations.

More than half of farmers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland voted to leave, although they are particularly reliant on subsidies.

It is important to note that farmers often voted on the basis of the same concerns as the public in general, rather than agricultural policy. Those who wanted to leave were concerned about issues such as loss of sovereignty and migration. Those who voted to remain were more concerned about market access and loss of support.

During the referendum campaign I addressed a number of meetings of farmers on Brexit. Since then I have sought the views of well-connected farmers for their views on patterns of voting.

The general view was that livestock farmers were more likely to vote for Brexit as they felt constrained by what they saw as EU regulations. The FW poll shows that support for Brexit was particularly strong in the south-west, a livestock region.

However, there is anecdotal evidence that some arable farmers voted for Brexit because they felt constrained by the EU pesticides regime, e.g., restrictions on neonics and a possible ban on glyphosate, a popular weed killer. However, they now realise that if the UK wants to export grains to the EU, it would have to abide by EU regulations.

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