The old joke that the Gettysburg address has 286 words and the EU memorandum on the sale of Cabbages has 26911 ,rings true for most people, whether true or not . In a subject fraught with emotion, skewed statistics and biased opinion I sensibly can only offer my personal view as to its effect on British agriculture gleaned from my wide ranging farming contacts and those within Defra.
I think it indisputable that the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU most obviously exhibited through the Basic Payment Scheme has powerful supportive French , Spanish and German lobbies (between them they receive about 50% of the budget which itself takes 38% of all EU expenditure) The 2016 scheme is not as generous as the old Single Farm Payments but would never be supported even at current levels by an autonomous British government outside the EU , . The farming population in this country represents only 1.5% of the whole (5.4% in the EU) and I believe the political temptation to redistribute support payments to projects in high density population areas will be irresistible. In any event from an East Anglian perspective a transfer of funds to farmers with smaller land areas (ie the money goes west) is inevitable on the basis of relative need if the fund diminishes nationally.
Production :Consider the price of wheat, Britian sells about 15-20% of our production in exports with the vast majority going to the EU .Yes we could sell more on the world market (the small balance )but we would still have to compete against low cost producers worldwide . The question is can we produce more cheaply than our competitors?
On the cost side why would a tractor or piece of equipment , fertilizer or spray made in Italy or Germany or other EU state be cheaper if we are outside the free trade zone ? Currently there are no tariff barriers . Friends who are machinery dealers who export to and import from the EU find the whole process simple. Will that be the case hereafter? Having access to the relatively wealthy 504million EU population can never be more advantageous than under current arrangements. But will it be cheaper dealing with the rest of the world outside the EU and thereby reduce overall costs. Thus far I have not read a coherent case that unequivocally demonstrates a risk free alternative to EU membership on this front. A risk set against a current UK GDP at £700bn and an EU net contribution of £7bn (ie 1%). Outside the EU how much of that 7bn would actually be saved ? .In business you will not make an investment without assessing the risk. This is the problem with the debate. The subject is too complex with too many interrelated strands for any rational conclusion to be reached . I predict ‘The big political guns’ will be wheeled out about 3 weeks before the vote on 23rd June and surprise surprise, British agriculture (and me)may well be none the wiser.