WITHOUT joined up thinking about the future of farm support and agricultural research after Brexit, the UK risks being left with less livestock and "shattered rural economies".

That was the warning from the British Society of Animal Science this week, as it called for policy makers to start a proper conversation about what is going happen to UK farming and food production outside the European Union.

Speaking at the society’s annual conference on Wednesday, BSAS president Professor Liam Sinclair said that without a "fresh approach", UK food security will be challenged, and the country’s rural landscapes and communities could be forced to change beyond recognition.

“We need to have a very different conversation about how UK agriculture will work outside the EU,” he told delegates. “If there isn’t a substantial amount of applied research and knowledge transfer to allow the livestock industry to improve its efficiency and profitability then food security will be seriously challenged.

“What’s more, without giving producers the support they need to survive and successfully develop their businesses outside the EU we risk being left with fewer animals, an altered landscape, and shattered rural economies," said Professor Sinclair.

“Coming out of the EU means the end of the CAP and single farm payments, and if we want to extend our global competitiveness and maintain our current standards of production, food quality and animal welfare, it is essential that Government develops well thought out, focussed policies that are based on sound evidence and supported by targeted incentives.

“This is a chance to join up thinking across government and the industry as a whole. It will be difficult to do, but it’s vital that it happens,” he insisted.

To assist policy makers, BSAS has published a policy white paper, produced by a team of farmers, advisors and animal scientists, which sets out five key areas on which Government must focus to ensure the long-term sustainability of UK livestock production and research:

- Additional government support must target applied research which drives innovation, has rapid impact and adds value;

- Policies must improve competitiveness and be evidence based;

- UK Scientists must have access to European Research Funding;

- The UK livestock workforce must have appropriate skills and training;

- Support for livestock production and research to underpin UK food security, biodiversity, tourism and the rural economy.

“The food and drink industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, and the role that the livestock sector plays within that in supporting the country’s economy and food security cannot be overlooked," said Professor Sinclair.

“For that reason, it is essential that the challenges and opportunities posed by Brexit are properly addressed, and that everyone in the food and farming sectors – whether they are scientists, farmers, processors or anyone else in the economic cycle – are given the support they need."

BSAS chief executive Bruce Beveridge added: “We need to make sure that government is fully aware of the importance of the livestock industry to the UK economy when negotiating with the EU, setting up new trade deals or preparing domestic policy

“If they don’t then there is a major risk to the UK’s balance of trade, and potentially food security, tourism and employment.”