Charlie Weir – a dairy farmer in the Waringstown area of Upper Bann – said the one issue dominating the political agenda for local food producers ahead of next month’s general election is Brexit.
“We need to get a proper deal,” he said.
Mr Weir has been lobbying politicians on farming issues in recent years and is in no doubt the Province’s MPs “know what they have to do,” but said farmers remain nervous about the Brexit uncertainty which is hampering their forward planning.
“Banks aren’t keen to lend lots of money until they see what sort of a deal is done. We are coming out of Europe and if farmers don’t get a proper deal, farming in Northern Ireland will be finished. In Europe you have marketplace of 550 million people and there are fears we are going to lose out on that.
“Then there are the trade deals with the rest of the world and the tariffs. For New Zealand to bring a tonne of butter in it’s costing them €1,654 but if they didn’t have to pay that tariff – if Britain goes for a cheap food policy – they could flood our market.
“They need to look at ways of safeguarding out own agriculture. There are over 100,000 people employed in agriculture in Northern Ireland.”
In September 2015, Mr Weir was part of a Fair Price Farming NI delegation that handed a letter of protest to the offices of the European Commission in Belfast – calling for the introduction of “a realistic safety net” for the dairy industry.
Speaking to the News Letter this week, Mr Weir said: “Brazil can produce the beef cheaper, New Zealand can produce the milk cheaper, so we can perhaps get slightly more efficient, but want to play them on a level playing field.”