British Sheep Farmers Are Changing Breeding Habits Ahead of Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- The risk of a no-deal Brexit has some U.K. farmers stockpiling fertilizers or crossbreeding sheep in case they lose access to their main export market, while others prefer a wait-and-see attitude.

The divided approaches highlight the uncertainty over how the country’s agriculture industry will fare with just weeks until the scheduled exit. Here’s what some farmers attending this week’s National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham, England had to say:

‘Done All We Can’

For the past two years, Andrew Blenkiron has been helping to prepare the 7,000-acre farm he manages in Suffolk for any Brexit fallout. The operation plans to stock up on fertilizers and fuel before the end of March and has leased a combine rather than investing in a new one. It has stopped breeding sheep and postponed building new storage for onions.

He’s worried that a no-deal Brexit may prompt the government to allow cheap imported products from countries with lower standards.

“We’ve done all we possibly can,” he said. “Hopefully within five weeks we’ll know one way or the other, and then we can move on and take on the new challenges.”

Sheep Jitters

British sheep farmers are expected to be among the most affected by no-deal divorce as export tariffs hamper trade. There’s “an increasing level of nervousness,” and some farmers have already reduced flocks or postponed buying equipment, said Phil Stocker, head of the National Sheep Association.

As Brexit looms, Hedd Pugh’s farm on hilly land in Wales has been crossbreeding sheep to produce larger lambs more appealing to U.K. consumers.

No Reason to Fret

Other farmers are less worried, and are even thinking about the benefits Brexit may eventually bring.

“I think I can cope with Brexit,” said Colin Rayner, who voted to leave and whose Windsor farm has been in the family since the 16th century. He’s more concerned about facing another summer drought.

Rayner boosted wages to keep workers, some of whom come from eastern Europe. With crop yields plateauing, he’s eager for the possibility of bringing back crop chemicals and other technology currently limited in the European Union.

‘Right Price’

Olly Harrison, a crop farmer near Liverpool, also hopes that the U.K. will be able to shake some of the EU’s farming restrictions, like planting genetically-modified crops. If there’s a no-deal Brexit, he’s looking for the pound to weaken enough to keep British exports competitive, which may help shield farmers in the short-term.

“If you produce something at the right price and at the right quality, there will be a market for it,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.