A sound Brexit deal is essential for the future of Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry.
That was the message from the Ulster Farmers’ Union as it addressed MPs at Westminster.
It further warned that any deal that threatened the traditional cross border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be a major threat to farmers and jobs in processing.
The UFU, along with Dairy UK and Lakeland Dairies, which buys a lot of its milk from Northern Ireland farmers, was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, which is looking at the implications of Brexit for the land border between what will be the UK and EU.
“We told the committee this has major economic implications for the entire agricultural industry,” said UFU president, Barclay Bell.
“Trade has traditionally been on an all-island basis, and if this cannot continue it will disrupt trade relationships that have been the norm since long before the UK and Ireland became EU members. Since EEC entry in the 1970s trade has become progressively easier and more important. That is why a hard Brexit that does not take account of the practical realities of the Irish border would be a major problem for the farming and food industries.”
The UFU says this is a particular problem for the dairy, sheep and horticulture sectors. Every year, at least 40 per cent of lambs in Northern Ireland are traded across the border and Northern Ireland dairy farmers provide Irish processors with quality milk on a year-round basis. Access to cross border labour is also a significant issue for many of our horticulture farmers. In addition there are farm businesses that have land straddling the border and there is cross border ownership of processing capacity in both the dairy and red meat industry.
“These are major practical problems that will have to be recognised in the Brexit negotiations. We went to the committee because we believe it is important politicians fully understand the detail of cross border trading and the need for this to be factored into whatever decisions are ultimately taken on how the border will operate after Brexit,” said Mr Bell.