Sean Finan: Brexit will be biggest ever challenge for Irish farming

Young Irish farmers are feeling great disappointment and fear following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Macra na Feirme raised our concerns on the subject at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, which was convened to discuss Brexit’s potential implications.

The consequences and fallout from Brexit are, in my view, the biggest challenge our industry will face in our generation. In the past we have had BSE, Foot and Mouth and others crises but this is bigger than all of those together.

Young farmers have expressed their concerns about Brexit at numerous events hosted by Macra in the months after the referendum in Britain. Carrigaline Macra hosted a seminar ‘Irish Agriculture at a Crossroads’ along with AIB in November.

I attended an All-Island dialogue on Brexit in City North Hotel, Co Meath, which brought together all stakeholders from industry, agencies and farm organisations from the North and South.

Huge concerns were expressed by all parties from both sides of the border on the implications for agriculture on both sides of the border.

There is a need for the EU and the UK to jointly state as soon as possible that a transitional arrangement will be possible should a deal not be completed within two years of triggering article 50. This will ease uncertainty in the short term and would help to reduce sterling fluctuations.

Border costs

Borders result in additional costs — which have the potential to drive up retail prices in the UK and in turn make foreign food imports into the UK more appealing. Borders have the potential to also encourage illegal activity and illegal trade.

That the speading of risk across the whole food supply chain is required and contract arrangements between primary producers and processors have the potential to spread some of the risk-taking away from farmers.

Fluctuations in the value of the sterling and disruptions to trade, as well as the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, are all contributing to the frustration young farmers are feeling about Brexit.

Young farmers have the most to lose from Brexit. We are establishing our careers in the sector and are more vulnerable to short term uncertainty and volatility as we don’t have the financial means to cushion us from such volatility.

Young farmers in the border region do not want to see the introduction of a hard border as some of the businesses they work with operate in the North and South.

To ease into life without the UK as a member of the EU, Macra called for the minimisation of any barriers to trade, such as tariffs, and a continuation of the free movement of agri produce between Ireland and the UK.

The potential introduction of additional labelling regulations for trade between the UK and Europe is causing much anxiety amongst young farmers.

Should new labelling rules be introduced, then Macra na Feirme is calling for the appropriate resources to be put in place to ensure a smooth transition and to prevent farmers from bearing the brunt of additional costs associated with differing labelling criteria.

Diversification into new markets is essential to soften blows caused by Brexit that result in lower agri trade.

Inevitably the more markets Irish produce has access to, the less reliant we will become on Britain as a major agri trading partner.

However, Macra stresses that exploring entry to new markets takes time and resources and bodies such as Bord Bia will need the appropriate support to ensure entry is granted.

Expansion of access to new markets is important — trade missions should be accelerated further, and it is important to relay the message that Ireland is not part of Brexit and that it is open for business. Macra is calling for additional resources to be provided to bodies, such as Bord Bia, to sustain access to new global markets.

The implications of Brexit are all unknown and to conclude in sporting terms this match has just kicked off.

There is a long way to go and the result is far from certain for all of us both here and in the UK.


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