Where Brexit started

East versus West

The UK mainland farming 'community' is divided into two very distinct forms.

These 2 forms can be classed very generally into 'family farms' (in West, Wales & Scotland) and 'plantations' (In East England). On the mainland, farms are usually one or the other.

N.Ireland is predominantly; mixed farms - ie pasture AND plough.

Family farms
Are usually less than 500 acres, and often on poorer land (Grades 3-5) West of the Pennines. They are predominantly pasture, run by trenant farmers on landed gentry land. They often permanent, and used for grazing sheep and cows. They are run by families with perhaps a permanent worker or two.
Plantations Are mainly on the Eastern side of the Pennines and are large tracts of lands (often over 1000 acres & owned by foreign landlords) predominantly the best land grades 1 & 2,. They are 'arable' on which are grown monocultures of grain, vegetables and other annuals grown and picked by predominantly migrant workers, usually form the EU.

Brexit & Arable

The 'red' map (below) was of the Predicted Vote for Brexit 2 months before the actual vote when they came in 3-1. The Northern towns came in later to vote for Brexit - at 2-1. Modelling by LSE April 2016. The early thrust for Brexit is indicated by red - and the the redder the area, the more so. This area includes those along south coast (where 'oldies' were to vote Brexit), while most of the rest of the 'red parts' closely correspond with the yellow areas in right hand map of UK farms. These correspond to arable farming i.e. ploughed - which is where we grow our grain, vegetables and soft fruit crops. Many EU migrant workers lived and worked in the fruit and vegetable areas.
These 'farms' I call plantations. I learnt about plantations, when studying for an MSc in tropical crops, as characterised by large tracks of land (often owned by foreign capital) well away from cities, so that they can grow uniform crops (monoculture) using migrant workers - classic definition of 'plantation'.. These high capital enterprises changed the nature of farming throughout the world. These plantations were in tropical regions growing cocoa, sugar, rubber, cotton etc. Now this mode of production has moved to temperate regions - only with annual, rather than perennial, crops. This is more damaging to the soil.
Whatever happens with Brexit, we need to address the future of farming in relation to both these v different farming forms. And their very different contributions to society and the environment.


When coming to any decisions about the future of British farming , we need to take into account these two completely different modes of production.
Family farms are very dependent on CAP subsidies (often over 75% of earnings) and have little room to diversify into other crops.
Plantations earn over 75% from sales, and can more easily adapt to changing markets and conditions. But can they get 'the labour?.
Investing in new technologies is more likely to occur on the plantations for their future capital investments, while family farms less are likely to take the risks.


When working out the contribution to global warming, the two forms of farming are again very different.
'Arable Veggies' claim that they are better 'for GHG emissions', while 'Pasture Omnivores' can point to 'looking after soil' better..
This present big 'Veggie v Omnivore' debate goes back many years to Caen & Abel!
Arable soils growing vegetables loose most of the soil lost through erosion, while pasture soils hold 2X soil life as arable.(Countryside Survey 2007 Chap 8)

Other Differences

There are some startling differences as a result of this divide. Most of the appalling number fatalities in agriculture occur on these family farms. Many fatalities are among older farmers, common on these sorts of farms. The appalling abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board came from the plantation owners. The AWB was protect workers pay & conditions. The plantations did not want to pay migrant workers a few pence more than the minimum wage The AWB was for 'England & Wales', but Wales did NOT want to loose the AWB, so set up its own later. Similarly small farms did not want the abolition Hansard). It made life easier to have the Wages Board - everybody knew where they stood. This emphasises that the abolition of the AWB was done away with by one particular sector in the farm industry - from the plantations, not the family farms. It was from these areas where the push for Brexit came from. Not from family farming areas. Yet it is they who will suffer most.
Many commentators do not distinguish the two different sorts of farming. This is unfortunate, as when we DEFRA says '2 million tonnes of soil are lost each tear due to erosion', they do not spell out where most of that erosion occurs - on the arable (plantation) land. Throughout Britain's history, the move from family farms to plantation farms - often across the world, has been a key part of our imperialist past. Little did we know it was going on in our country under our noses. But some did smell what was going on..and that led to Brexit.

Got to be better way

I doubt that many in those areas who were voting to Brexit in Eastern England were doing so because of the monocultures and soil degradation. It had much more to do with the presence of EU migrant workers. Whether this will be sorted after Brexit is yet to be seen. If we are to Brexit, surely this is a priority to grow our healthy food in better ways than this. Yet there are no signs of this happening. You can see it is not being addressed, as retailers are pushing to maintain access to migrant workers - wherever they are from. There is talk of technological answers - but as yet to be implemented. Bittersweet Brexit points some ways forward.
We often hear about the 'industrialisation' of agriculture, but the creation of plantations puts a different slant on matters. It is not merely a matter of industry - its technology and way of work, taking over. Changing to plantations is a massive capital development. In its earliest form during colonial times plantations depended on slavery. They now depend on new forms called 'modern slavery'. When the Coalition government introduced the 'Modern Slavery Act in 2016, they estimated 2000 modern slaves in the food and farm sector; they would be involved with the 'plantations'.
Or did Brexit start earlier? Compare these two maps. One is the incidence of 'Mad Cow' disease in the early 1990s and the right one, the actual Brexit vote.
What are all those people who voted Brexit in these areas - going to feel if very little changes in the plantations?
Other than new workers from elsewhere
The Bard of Barking has a go in 'Full English Brexit',