Farmers unanimous in opposition over Brexit

Farmers unanimous in opposition over Brexit

6 February 2019

FARMERS who gathered at a recent beef cattle sale in Downpatrick described Brexit as the biggest peacetime emergency in almost a century.

Almost to a man, the farmers at the Downpatrick Co-operative mart were vehemently opposed to leaving the European Union without a deal put in place. 

Michael Rice, from Burrenbridge, near Castlewellan, explained why farmers are worried.

He said: “The likes of Brazil and Argentina can produce beef a lot cheaper than we can because their regulations are more relaxed than ours. 

“They put absolutely no emphasis on traceability whereas we couldn’t sell our cattle without a record of where they came from, what farm they were reared on and so on.

“Northern Irish beef can be traced all the way from the farm to the dinner plate. We have more quality control on our beef and that is what makes it high grade. This leaves us in a very difficult position because we cannot produce our beef for any less than we already do.

“Our fear is that, in the event of a ‘no deal’ and there isn’t enough UK beef to satisfy demand, they will look at bringing in beef from outside of the UK. If it’s brought in at a cheaper price it could very well leave us in a tight spot.”

Mr Rice, whose family has been in farming for generations, continued: “Beef and lamb have been subsidised by the EU indirectly in the form of Single Farm Payments. Dairy, pork and chicken are already at world prices and can already compete. They will not see such a big fluctuation whereas we will be more exposed.”

“If Prime Minister Teresa May were to step in and take over the subsidies, the outlook looks favourable in the short term.

“But when a boat load of beef comes in from Brazil then almost certainly subsidies will be reduced and we’ll be paid to maintain the landscape. In other words we’ll be reduced to gardeners.”

Describing Brexit as the “biggest peacetime emergency in almost a century”, Ballynahinch farmer Barry Higgins said the uncertainty of the situation did not do farmers any favours.

“We feel it’s more of a back lash than a back stop,” he remarked, adding that he hoped no farmers would be forced out of business.

Dessie Canavan, from Kilcoo, said farmers were being “dragged into Brexit” against their will.

“It is unfair for us to compete against the likes of Brazil and Argentina,” he remarked. “Depending on the size of our farm, sometimes we are forced out into part-time jobs to subsidise our income. And that’s before Brexit comes into force. There is much to be concerned about.”

A spokesman for Downpatrick Co Operative Marketing Ltd said its role was to respect the views of all its shareholders and customers, who are farmers.

He added: “Our business relies solely on the trading of livestock both locally and outside Northern Ireland and we are therefore concerned about the impact Brexit will have on our daily business and the local faming community we serve.

“As part of a democratic society we respect the people’s vote to leave the EU, but we are also aware the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain. 

“We now have a situation with two main options — either crash out or negotiate a deal to leave. Our main fear with the crash out option is that it exposes us all to a greater risk of casualties rather than survivors. 

“Over the past 18 months Teresa May has been trying tirelessly to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU that represents and respects all the people within the UK.” 

The spokesman said: “All we ask is the same respect is given to any deal which identifies and supports the uniqueness of trading and faming in Northern Ireland. Businesses and farmers are very good at adapting to change in whatever form it comes but at present, with no clear decision on Brexit, the ongoing development of any business has been affected.”

The Ulster Farmers’ Union is also concerned at the prospect of a ‘no deal’ Brexit UFU president Ivor Ferguson added: “We respect the referendum result and that the UK will leave the EU. However, the uncertainty is very damaging. 

“With March 29 less than 60 days away decisions need to be taken urgently and a deal agreed. Leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland’s farming families and their businesses. 

“No deal means high tariffs on our exports creating an effective trade embargo and the possibility of lower standard imports flooding the UK market. 

“These practical issues will have an immediate and profound impact on farmers, causing major disruptions to the supply chain, crippling the industry and rendering our farmers uncompetitive.”