Leading industry figures and local politicians have issued a stark warning over the future of Dundee and Angus farming amid fears continued Brexit uncertainty could put jobs and businesses at risk.
Farming chiefs held crunch talks with Scottish Government ministers last month to discuss potential emergency measures to support agriculture in the event of the UK leaving the European Union without a withdrawal deal.
The Scottish sheep industry would be most vulnerable to the economic impact but leaders have warned firms across the sector have already been put under additional strain by the lack of clear direction.
Organic seed potato producer and exporter Andrew Skea, who farms at East Mains, Auchterhouse currently exports around a third of his produce to the EU and revealed uncertainty has forced local businesses to take significant financial risks.
He said: “The previous withdrawal date of March 29 was after our usual season – so if we’d known by then that we would have no access to certain markets, we could have cut production. The new date comes just as we’re building up our exports.
“We went ahead and planted. We did that in the hope that EU markets will still be open to us but we’ve been told quite clearly that if there is no deal, those markets will be closed. It would take decades to build up that volume again.
“I would be as badly affected as anyone. I would lose about a third of my business overnight and we would have to cut costs drastically. I would have to lose staff and it could affect the viability of the business.”
Mr Skea, a former president of the British Potato Trade Association, added that he is aware of a number of larger businesses in the area who have expressed similar concerns about their future.
Dundee West MP Chris Law, whose constituency includes rural areas of Angus including Fowlis, Piperdam and Auchterhouse, said farmers in the region had been “badly let down” and warned food producers are suffering.
“I have heard directly from farmers across my constituency worried about the effect that Brexit is already having on their businesses,” he said.
“They are deeply concerned over export markets, the future of farm support and the ability to hire seasonal staff, all of which are vital to their livelihoods.”
NFU Scotland will launch a survey of its 9,000 members in June to gauge concerns over Brexit and shape its lobbying priorities in the comings months.
President Andrew McCornick said: “The forthcoming Royal Highland Show in June 2019 marks three years since the landmark EU referendum took place. How have those 36 months shaped business confidence amongst the nation’s farmers and crofters?
“Despite the best efforts of NFU Scotland and the wider business lobby, there remains little certainty as to what the business landscape for Scottish farm and croft businesses will be outside of the EU.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not respond to a request for comment.