Brexit Leads to No Deal for Farming Industry in NI

Brexit, the term coined to describe the UK plans to leave the EU is a word many people are tired if hearing. It has been a turbulent time of great uncertainty which doesn’t seem to ending any time soon. There are both and negatives and positives to come from it but the uncertainty has left many people fearing for the future of their businesses.

On the 24th December 2020 the EU and Britain finally struck a deal to allow the two to continue to trade goods without quotas and tariffs. However, there are still some uncertainties concerning trade in the future. One of the industries which could be potentially affected is the agriculture industry. Many farmers are worried about the damage Brexit could do to their livelihood with prices of meal and fertiliser rising and the difficulties with shipping into Northern Ireland becoming increasingly harder with shipment taking weeks or months to come.

A benefit of being part of the EU was free trade which made trading to countries in the EU much easier. Since officially leaving the EU on the 31st January 2020 and the transition period ending in December 2020 there has been an in red tape which has resulted in delays causing food wastage leading to a loss of earnings for farmers. Brexit has led to higher supply chain costs and uncertainty about farm payments. There are also future problems expected in losses for the sheep meat industry. However, it is not all negative outcomes as better incentives for agriculture workforce are expected in the future.

S. McConnell & Sons, a family run business in Co.Down is one of the meal and fertiliser suppliers to farmers in their local area. One of the company directors Desmond said he has noticed that the price of everything has been continuously increasing for the farmer and deliveries have been held up and taking longer.

Not only are the effects of Brexit frustrating for the farmers but also the company in terms of suppliers. “Supplies are tighter and on a few occasions we had to change suppliers to get the best price”, he said. Desmond said, the price of fertiliser has increased by 300% and the price of meal is increasing monthly. Like many businesses they were concerned and unsure how Brexit would affect their business. “We weren’t sure how it would affect our business but business has definitely changed as a result of Brexit and other factors in the past two years.”

 Some of this uncertainty still remains, especially now with the potential collapse of NI Protocol which will again affect trading relationships in Northern Ireland with mainland UK. Desmond said he expects long term problems because it is a slow supply and not as straight forward a process as before with more paperwork and extra charges involved.

The farming industry is a challenging market and can be a very stressful and unpredictable occupation. William Francis, a sheep and beef farmer in Co. Down said the increase in meal prices and fertiliser since Brexit have put a real strain on their family farm as they are a relatively small farm and not bringing in the same money as a dairy or pig farm. “Our family has been farming for over four decades now and this is the highest meal prices and fertiliser have been that I can recall, they have went through the roof”, he said. William said, the price of sheep’s wool also has went down and they have found it particularly hard the past few years to get it sold which is partly a result of Brexit.

William said, the price of lambs went down since Brexit and continued to go down since the outbreak of Covid-19 which has made the past year quite tough financially for their family farm. “Lamb and beef prices are slowly increasing now thankfully”, he said. William said that since Brexit there are now more forms to fill in which has been quite stressful, especially for his father who is not used to filling in so much documentation. It is also makes selling animals much more difficult he said. “Moving cattle and sheep has become very frustrating and hard for us farmers as if we are selling them to England they now have to through a quarantine period and has led to a fall in sales oversees”, William said.

Farmers who have a much smaller flock are really suffering as a result as it becoming almost impossible for them to make any profit, William said. “There are a lot of things we cannot get in here anymore such as seed potatoes from Scotland which is a result of the NI Protocol,’ he said. The NI Protocol was created to with an aim to avoid a hard border and to facilitate free trade goods between NI and the UK. However, the Protocol has not proved as effective and has inevitably led to more problems which in turn affect farmers such as William.

It has been reported that British Farming, forestry and fishing will suffer a £94m deficit due to the free trade agreement. William said, this put the farming industry in NI at even more risk. “It is a worrying time for all those in the farming industry”, he said. If the meat from our farms here in NI cannot be sold to the UK what are we going to do, he said. William said, trade with the UK is some farmers main source of income and it could lead to the end of some farms which is very sad.

Currently, there does not seem to be many positives for the farming industry as a result of Brexit. The farmers were made many promises by the government but there does nit seem to have been any follow through. Their livelihoods are being put at substantial risk as can be seen by both Desmond and William’s views on Brexit and farming. To lose the farming industry in NI would be a devastating blow for all.

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Postgraduate MA Journalism Student