IF FARMERS had any cause to hope Brexit will ease European Union bureaucracy, they would be a lot happier.

This is particularly so when it comes to environmental rules. Indeed it was the cross compliance and greening aspects of the CAP that persuaded many farmers to vote in the 2016 referendum to leave the EU.

Livestock farmers in particular have cause to fear they are being unfairly drawn into the wider global debate on climate change. We have had a series of reports calling for policies to curb livestock production, with suggestions that subsidy mechanisms should be used to discourage farmers from an enterprise central to Scottish agriculture.

This week the tempo moved up a gear with the United Nations saying that eating meat will have to be curtailed to limit the damage from climate change. The European Commission's own Joint Research Centre of in-house scientists has said a shift to a plant based diet and fish would reduce the pressure on water resources. They believe this should be reflected in EU policies, adding for good measure that those sticking to conventional meat and dairy based diets tend to be older and less well educated.

This is a big issue and not one for debate in a single column, but it raises the whole issue of just how liberating Brexit will prove to be for farmers. We have pro-Brexit Conservatives dancing on the head of a pin over the detail of any possible EU trade deal, and how much influence whatever is agreed would leave with the European Commission. However when it comes to other regulations, including those that will affect farmers, those same politicians seem happy to allow the EU to continue to dictate UK policy in all areas related to the environment.

They really should come clean on how this approach delivers the Brexit they promised before the referendum. They need to say they will put clear blue water between the UK and EU policies, and will act to protect livestock farming from attacks by Brussels under the guise of climate change mitigation.

Those who believe the government will do this are few, such is our cynicism now that politicians are capable of delivering a satisfactory Brexit, for either leave or remain voters. On livestock what is worth remembering is that across the UK, 90% of cattle diets are grass based. And permanent pasture absorbs greenhouse gas creating carbon from the atmosphere.

On a different, less political note, the drought of the summer across Europe has proved yet again how agricultural markets respond to outside factors over which farmers have no control. According to the latest short term market report from the European Commission, the drought reduced cereal yields by 5% compared to 2017 and by 8% compared to the five-year average.

The reduction is biggest for wheat, with production down by 9% compared to 2017. This was to be expected, but it is the impact of the drought on the livestock sector that confirms how outside influences create what are dubbed ‘perverse’ results that could not have been forecast.

At the start of the year, the Commission waa warning of looming problems in the dairy sector, because of the rate at which milk production was rising. It warned a drop in prices was inevitable if this continued and suggested farmers would suffer the fallout from price volatility.

Then the drought hit and production ended up increasing by just 0.6% which is easily absorbed. A winter of reduced fodder availability and expensive grain will now see production continue to ease. The dairy sector was thus saved by the drought.

However in beef the opposite happened. Shortages of grass led to breeding cows being culled, increasing beef supplies with an inevitable impact on prices. Now going into a winter of reduced fodder availability, cattle have been finished early, again adding to supplies and putting more pressure on prices. This confirms that the market and weather, more than political policies, are what really impact farming.

However climate change driven plans to curb livestock production would have a negative impact that no outside influences on the market could offset. This is why, if Brexit is to deliver for UK agriculture, it must include a move away from the green-tinged view of farming that comes from Brussels. Not to deliver on this would be a betrayal of the many farmers who voted to escape CAP policies.