Border brooding at Balmoral as farmers fear the impact of Brexit

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Brexit will have a potentially devastating impact on the agri-food sector in the North West - the warning from very different quarters as farmers descended on the Balmoral Show this week for one of the biggest events in the Irish farming calendar.

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, who visited the annual show, warned that it was neither bullocks, barley nor butter, but Brexit, that was concerning local farmers.

Meanwhile, a new report from the House of Lords European Union Committee at Westminster, which was published last week, has laid bare what Brexit might mean for local farmers with excessive tariffs and rampant cross-border smuggling identified as potential threats.

The report, which examined how Brexit will affect local agriculture, warned: “Agri-food supply chains are particularly highly integrated between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The re-introduction of border controls and tariffs could severely disrupt this industry, and could lead to an increase in cross-border smuggling.”

The committee cited Noel Lavery, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), who underlined the intermeshing nature of agriculture in places like Derry and Donegal.

“The level of North/South integration in production/processing chains is considerable. Many agri-food businesses are structured and operate on a cross-border basis,” Mr. Lavery told the committee.

The report estimated the cost of producing paper work to deal with border controls, never mind customs tariffs, could range between €20 and €80 per border crossing.

Ian Wright, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), spelled out what this could mean for local milk producers.

“If you take one example - a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream - one in five cows in Ireland produces the milk and, if you are a Northern Irish cow, your milk crosses the border five times before it goes into the bottle. The idea that that would be subject to tariffs hither and yon is really very scary.”

At Balmoral Ms. Anderson called on farmers to support special status for the North within he EU as means of coping with the Brexit fall-out.

“There is a genuine fear among many farmers and others in the agri-sector about Tory plans to drag us out of the EU.

“EU funding has helped farmers modernise, diversify and be competitive in the marketplace and that will be lost if Theresa May gets her way,” she said.