Farmers divided on Brexit’s impact on their future

Farmers are concerned what Brexit will mean for their prices, markets and subsidies
Farmers are concerned what Brexit will mean for their prices, markets and subsidies

Stakeholders in the farming community across Northern Ireland were yesterday still sharply divided on the outcome of Brexit for the future of their industry.

Sam Chesney from Kircubbin, who has up to 500 beef cattle, was deeply concerned about the result.

“We have turned our back on 500 million customers on our doorstep,” he said. “We have a very good tried and tested relationship with the Republic of Ireland and hopefully it will continue.”

Much product such as lamb and milk is shipped south and he hopes this will not be affected – in the short term he is sure it won’t.

However many farming materials are made outside the UK and they will become more expensive to buy, he said, for example mechanical and health products.

The pound has dropped by 10% already, he said, and when it settles down other countries will want to ship very cheap farm produce in – which will benefit the consumer.

“The UK will end up in the same position as Brazil, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina. We will have to have all the regulations which Europe wants.”

He added: “We are an island off an island. Westminster does not have a record of doing well for farming and that is why most people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in.”

But UFU president Barclay Bell said: “We don’t want farmers to panic. CAP support is guaranteed to 2019. We will immediately enter into discussions on future support arrangements, funded by the UK Treasury, and also on the continuation of trade with Europe. We also have a UK farm union’s team in Brussels that will work closely with the European Commission and UK government as the UK makes the transition to exit the EU,” said Mr Bell.

Three MLAs from the Stormont agriculture committee had contrasting views.

DUP MLA William Irwin, whose family keeps 300 dairy cattle, welcomed the result.

“I feel reasonably confident we will just as comfortable outside Europe,” he said.

“It will take two or three years to get out. In the short term it will easier to export and there may be a helpful ‘bounce’ for farmers if sterling is weak.

“The vast majority of farmers voted to leave. Most of those I spoke to said it can’t get any worse.”

Former beef farmer and UUP MLA Harold McKee said: “I am totally confident that the NI agri-food industry will continue to go from strength to strength, with the increased opportunities to compete across the global marketplace.”

He looks forward to the agriculture minister’s proposals for the way forward as part of the Programme for Government, he said. The consensus on the doorsteps was that 98% of farmers were in favour of Brexit, he said.

But Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan said being “dragged” out of the European Union will have major complications for farmers.

“Successive British governments have tried to reduce and withdraw subsidies and Brexit will only make matters worse,” he said. “Our farmers receive vital support from the EU, Brexit will put all that in jeopardy.”

He has no faith that the UK will replace subsidies, he said.

Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen said Brexit is a new opportunity for the Northern Ireland agri-food industry.

Exit will take a number of years, during which time EU support for farmers and current trading arrangements will remain, she said.

“We have time to negotiate new arrangements with respect to trade in goods and services with the EU and the rest of the world. And we have time to develop and implement better systems for providing support to farmers. “I believe this represents a new opportunity for the industry and that it is up to us to make the best of that new opportunity. High on my list of priorities is the need to ensure that Northern Ireland farmers receive the support they need and are properly represented when our new UK payment systems are being devised.”