Landlines: Result of EU referendum will have implications for farmers

Allowing heavier tractor/trailer combinations on rural roads might not seem a good idea at first glance.

Other road users, especially those who have spent some time in a convoy of vehicles behind a large existing combination hauling grain, potatoes, turnips or vegetables, might query Department of Transport (DoT) legislation due to take effect next spring. But the legislation will also increase allowable speed from the present maximum – which I tend to think is theoretical anyway on main roads as opposed to rural lanes - from 20mph to 25mph.

The DoT statement outlining the change said it is intended to “reflect capabilities of modern machinery, improve the efficiency of the farming sector and help to boost the economy.” The DoT also believes that present limits set in 1986 are outdated. You can see why if we think of the average size of tractors and trailers almost 30 years ago compared with today’s much bigger versions.

From that splendid section found in every government department, the one for guesswork, the DoT estimate that the higher limits will generate benefits to farming of £62 million a year. Good to know and that’s not all – before harvest 2016 weights and speeds might be increased again. The proviso to that could be a roadworthiness test.

As the dust of the Scottish independence referendum refuses to settle to anyone’s satisfaction another might be held in 2017 to decide if the United Kingdom remains a member of the European Union. Before we get to that, of course, there is a general election next year and a Scottish parliament election in 2016. Depending on who wins or goes into coalition after the general election, plans could be made for the in or out of the EU referendum. And depending on Scottish parliament results there could be demands – a platform already being laid by the SNP – that the UK can’t vote to leave the EU if one part of it, that is Scotland, has a majority vote to stay in.

The implications for farmers if the UK leaves the EU should concentrate minds. However, many billions of pounds the UK contributes to the EU as well as being “surprised” by the recent demand for another £1.7 billion, UK farmers get European subsidies of more than £3 billion a year. But the UK government wants to scrap farming subsidies. If no longer a member of the EU the UK could do that.

According to free market thinking that is the only way to be competitive, with New Zealand given as an example. Farm subsidies were removed there overnight in the early 1980s, forcing some farmers out of business, but encouraging those who survived to become much more focused, skilled and competitive.