Brexit could potentially have a substantial effect on game cover – as well as the shooting industry in general. With new import taxes, tariffs, phytosanitary certificates, fluctuating currencies to name but a few, it would be unwise to expect everything to remain the same.
But what varieties and aspects of the game cover industry could be most affected – and what are the opportunities that could arise from the situation?
Things currently stand as they have for many years, with a large percentage of game cover seed being imported from Eastern and Central Europe. This is mainly due to the favourable growing conditions. A warmer, dryer climate helps with seed germination and allows growing to continue for longer periods throughout the year. And, although we can still import seed from Europe and the EU, we don’t yet know on what basis.
There will almost certainly be new taxes and tariffs placed on goods coming in from the EU, and even though game cover seed is classed as agricultural and therefore should avoid the worst of the tariffs – the differences could still be considerable.
Another concern when importing from the EU once we officially leave is availability. We are already seeing ports full and goods vehicles queueing on both sides of the channel, this looks set to continue. Seed breeders from the EU may also give preference treatment to fellow EU states as the tariffs will work both ways – which could leave a shortage of seed for the UK among certain game cover varieties.
A final issue is that of phytosanitary certificates. Phytosanitary certificates are issued by the Forestry Commission’s Cross Border Plant Health Service, and they certify that the incoming material has been inspected, is free from quarantine pests and that it conforms to the plant health regulations of the importing country. Seeds are one good that require said certificate which could result in a lack of availability for a period of time.
It is now looking almost certain that game maize will feel the effects of Brexit more than any other variety of game cover.
Generally, game maize are older grain varieties that have come to the end of their cycle and are therefore swallowed up by the game cover markets and sold at lower cost – this is why game cover maize is cheaper than grain maize. Basically, when people are buying game maize, they are buying a variety that is coming from old, leftover grain stock.
Additionally, even including grain maize, the UK accounts for less than 1% of the global maize market, as traditionally maize is meant to grow in a tropical climate. With such a small share of the market, breeders spend very little time breeding varieties for the UK and Northern Europe as it is time consuming and costly.
Now we have left the EU, the UK government has produced a list of varieties that we are allowed to sell – with each variety having to be paid for to make it onto the registered list. Therefore, we must ask why a breeder would bother spending the money to get a variety registered in the UK when it is sold as game cover at a lower cost? Breeders may register forage varieties as they make money, but whether they register game maize – or keep it at a similar price – is guesswork.
The positives for game maize are that it is still the cheapest and most effective form of game cover. Even if the price increases by £20 or £30 an acre – this is generally less than the cost of one pheasant – an increase most shoots could manage: particularly when considering the strength of game maize as a cover crop.
Bright Seeds’ Top Gun Maize.
It has been well documented that the new Agricultural Bill born out of Brexit will focus on improving the general environment in the UK, with a reduction in single farm payments and farmers receiving financial incentives to plant mixtures that benefit wildlife. Clearly, this is an opportunity as a large percentage of game cover mixtures contain species that enhance wildlife habitat.
On this topic, we have recently been in conversation with Natural England, who in the New Year are looking to pilot a number of mixtures and environmental schemes at our trial site on Dean Farm.
It is worth noting, however, that it will be interesting to see how farmers balance stewardship with food production. With the cost of importing food increasing, they have a greater responsibility to grow more fruit and vegetables.
What We’re Doing…
Although there are hurdles to jump, it isn’t all doom and gloom. At Bright Seeds we are striving to produce and grow more of our own seed crops, meaning we aren’t reliant on importing and aren’t at the mercy of the EU and its tariffs. Despite growing conditions not being quite as optimal here in the UK, the benefits are that we can keep a closer eye on things, it is cost-effective and we don’t have to worry about a chain of transport links into the country.
Another reason for confidence is our exclusive variety – Flightpath Maize. Flightpath is still a good grain variety, is used in Northern Europe and has achieved its registration on the list of approved varieties. As our best game maize variety this is excellent news – and due to its approval it should be around the same price as this year.
Also, having become the top supplier of game cover in Scandinavia, we have got our situation in place to cater for all of our European sales.
The wider implications for the UK shooting industry are equally unknown. We’ve spoken to individuals across the industry who feel they will be largely unaffected, apart from a few increases in price. It is not yet known how easy it will be for EU citizens to come over and shoot. However, with the huge amount of money that EU citizens pump into the rural economy by coming over and shooting, we would hope that this won’t become too much of a sticking point.
Like anything, it is always nice to be independent – but more often than not, you have to pay for it!