Irish farming must prepare for big changes even in a 'soft' Brexit
"No matter what kind of Brexit takes place, things are going to change." That was the big message from Agriculture Minister Michael Creed at the recent Brexit Stakeholders Consultative Committee meeting.
Minister Creed told stakeholders that contingency planning is ongoing and that a no-deal Brexit would present enormous challenges for the agri-food sector.
Half of our beef exports by both value (€1.1bn) and volume (290,000 tonnes) are sent to the UK each year. In the event of a hard Brexit, this would lead to the imposition of tariffs of up to 70pc (€780m).
IFA beef chair Angus Woods urged the Government to take advantage of EU economic safeguard clauses to put in place immediate measures to lift pressures off the Irish beef sector.
"The EU Commission has support tools and mechanism ready to go to support farmers. The whole uncertainty and nervousness around Brexit is having a serious impact on prices as the case for hard Brexit is still a real possibility."
Last year, 432,000 lambs were imported from Northern Ireland for processing. According to Bord Bia figures, these lambs would be subject to WTO tariffs of 85.5c/kg if no deal between the EU and UK is struck, which would effectively end cross-border trade.
While ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara thinks the shortage of lambs would lead to an increase in prices in the Republic in the short-term, he thinks a soft-Brexit is the best outcome for trade overall.
"If there was a hard Brexit, I'd worry that in the long-term, factories might have to close as they wouldn't have enough of a supply. There's a lot of uncertainty at the moment. A lot of sheep farmers have beef as well so if there is hard Brexit, they would be doubly affected."
A tariff rate of 22pc (€91m) would apply to the 56pc of pigmeat exports which are sent to the UK each year in a no-deal scenario.
With Irish pig prices running at a 15-year low for the last six months, Teagasc's pig specialist Ciaran Carroll said that the possibility of a hard Brexit is an extra worry for pig farmers who are already suffering enormous losses.
At present over a quarter of total dairy exports (€857m), including half of cheese exports (€410m) go to the UK market. A potential tariff rate equivalent of 49pc on average (€422m) could be implemented if there was a hard Brexit.
Conor Mulvihill of Dairy Industry Ireland warned that for a single product of Cheddar alone, the tariff threat is about €155m, with a threat of about €400m on overall dairy exports to the UK.
"We are engaging closely with our colleagues in Food Drink Ireland, to push for a tariff stabilisation fund and state aid," said Mr Mulvihill.
ICMSA president Pat McCormack added that quota-less access to UK is imperative.
WTO tariffs on tillage in the event of a crash-out would be €95/t, €93/t and €89/t on wheat, barley and oat respectively.
Ireland imports approximately 230,000 tonnes of milling wheat for flour each year from the UK. Bobby Miller of Irish Grain Growers Group warned that a hard Brexit could drive more farmers out of tillage.
Almost 90pc of Irish mushrooms are exported to the UK each year, if WTO tariffs were applied a rate of 12pc could be applied.
"It's not just tariffs that would be an issue, customers in the UK want them white and fresh and we take pride in getting the mushrooms to them within a day of being ordered. If there were port delays, this would put this in jeopardy," said Gerard Reilly of Reilly Mushrooms in Westmeath.
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