Will Brexit Britain face WWI problems?

There are first world problems, and there are First World War problems|There are first world problems, and there are First World War problems

There are first world problems, and there are First World War problems

A hundred years ago, the war on the Somme was raging, which meant able-bodied British men were away fighting. 

The agricultural industry had to rely on migrant labour, which included Belgian war refugees, Irish travellers and even German prisoners of war. Even then, Britain faced a shortfall of labour, and children as young as ten worked long hours to keep up food production. 

While history proves that Britain in the 1900s was far from self-sufficient, relying on imports to provide 70 per cent of its total consumption, we’re not better off today. 

Currently, the UK imports 40 per cent of its food, and with 25 per cent of this coming from EU countries, the referendum vote raises the question: what now?

With many Brits not willing to work for agricultural wages, and UK’s migrant workers locked out post-Brexit, how will we keep up food production?

From £3 billion subsidies to an abundance of cheap labour, being part of the EU kept UK farmers in the black. 

After the referendum vote, ministers have promised to maintain EU levels of funding until at least 2020, but even so, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has called for a post-Brexit “revolution” in the farming industry.

According to the not-for-profit group, CPRE, subsidies should go to big and small farms alike to boost diversity in farming. 

Attracting talent in food production

With a growing interest in buying locally produced food, British produce has seen a boost in demand. But how can UK’s farms keep up its output if its access to affordable skilled labour from Europe is at risk?

For one thing, no one knows how many skilled and unskilled farm workers the industry actively needs now and in the future, calling for a need for fresh analysis in light of Brexit.

Unlike other sectors, agriculture isn’t fully embedded within the national curriculum for the science, maths and geography disciplines, which makes it hard for students to consider as a viable career path.

Arguably, there still remains a problem in public perception. A career farming is often still seen as unrewarding and low paid. 

The truth is that the sector is actually high tech and innovative, and the scope for “hot” technologies like artificial intelligence, RFID tagging and data science are huge. However, graduates may not be aware of just how cutting edge modern farming really is. 

In the post-Brexit context, farmers and industry bodies may need to implement rewarding apprenticeship programmes to stimulate interest in the field. 

Further reading: Where could we get our seasonal workforce from post Brexit?

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics