Potential opportunities for the dairy sector post-Brexit are being held back by the crippling uncertainty that surrounds the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
That was the view expressed by NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes as he took part in a panel debate at the Eucolait dairy conference in Edinburgh on Thursday.
Mr Oakes highlighted that the EU is the largest international trading partner for the UK dairy sector, and went on to explain that between 2013 - 2017 more than 90% of UK dairy exports were sent to the EU.
He said this revealed the ‘significance of our future relationship’.
Mr Oakes continued: “Dairy farming, like all businesses, requires long-term planning. But after months of negotiation, we still haven’t got any certainty about our future which is hugely damaging. This means investment is being put on hold and essential jobs are not being filled.
“We’re still in the dark about what trading environment we will be operating under and whether we will have access to a sufficient workforce to carry out essential roles on our dairy farms, or what the UK’s future domestic agricultural policy will look like.”
“While the UK is a net importer of dairy products, there is demand around the world for the great quality food we are producing here. Our dairy farmers are keen to make the most of this, but we must not be undermined by Government trade policy which ignores our own high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards, and ultimately fails to recognise the importance of domestic milk production.
“Once we have certainty about our future relationship with the EU, we need Government to look at how it can support the growth of the British dairy sector by helping us access key markets and invest in domestic processing capacity to allow the industry to meet demand.
“Meanwhile, we continue to call on both the Government and Parliament to ensure that the extension to our leaving date is used constructively and a solution is found which enables the UK to leave the EU in an orderly way, avoiding the risk of another cliff-edge no-deal situation in October.”
Commenting on the Eucolait dairy conference in Edinburgh this week, UFU dairy policy chairman, Mervyn Gordon agreed with Mr Oakes’ sentiments regarding Brexit uncertainty.
He went on to add that the continued uncertainty is ‘harming farm businesses’.
Mr Gordon said: “Dairy farming, like all businesses, requires long-term planning but after months of Brexit negotiations there is still no clear path. Investment is being put on hold and we are still no clearer about future trading relationships or the UK’s future domestic agriculture policy.
“This is particularly concerning as the NI dairy industry is heavily reliant on export markets. While there is the opportunity to renew our focus on local markets, it would not be enough to counteract the loss of access to export markets.
“Farmers need certainty. We need to know what our future relationship with the EU looks like and not stumble off a cliff-edge with a no deal Brexit. Government and Parliament must ensure the Brexit extension is used constructively and a solution is found that allows the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion.”