'Farmers are in no-man's land'

William Hepburn, Billy Magee and Thomas White at Raphoe Livestock Mart. Photo Clive Wasson
William Hepburn, Billy Magee and Thomas White at Raphoe Livestock Mart. Photo Clive Wasson
Bill Ferry
David Macbeth
Brendan Peoples
Anne Harkin
Alex Gourley
Frank McClean

Threatened tariffs and import quotas cast a dismal spell on the Raphoe Mart in Donegal, with farmers grappling with what the latest twists in Brexit mean for them and their livelihoods.

As rain clouds darkened the skies overhead, farmers moods were low as they discussed the UK's plans to put tariffs on beef of 53pc.

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Anne Harkin

Mart manager Ann Harkin said while developments were not affecting trade, they were certainly causing uncertainty and leading to a downbeat atmosphere.

"People are in no-man's land - they don't know what's going to happen. If there was a concrete decision on Brexit, it would be easier. There's a lot of doom and gloom at the moment," she said.

She added that there hadn't been any major drop in the prices farmers were getting for animals. However, she said if uncertainty continued she'd be afraid that people would start panic-selling.

"There's nothing wrong with the prices being paid for good-spec cattle. A 600kg top-class bull is still making €580-970 over their weight," she said.

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Frank McClean

Frank McClean, who has 65 suckler cows on his farm at Rossbracken outside Letterkenny, said that if Britain leaves the EU without a deal the deal and tariffs came in, the market for Irish produce would be "finished".

"More than half of Irish beef is going to the UK. If Britain crashes out and there's a 53pc tariff on top of beef, it will treble the price of beef. Our beef exports are worth €430m - that situation would absolutely devastate our industry," he said.

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"I'm a full-time farmer. I'm very worried in case Britain goes out with no deal," he said.

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Alex Gourley

Mart auctioneer, Alex Gourley, who is a beef and sheep farmer from Inishowen, said he doesn't believe the UK will crash out.

"In a worst-case scenario it would affect the price of beef here. I still think there's a chance of another referendum," he said. "I don't know what more could be done to voice our concerns. The Government has promised they won't let beef farmers go to the wall.

"The main thing that's affecting the cattle trade at the minute is the weaker sterling."

St Johnston tillage and drystock farmer Ian Patterson feels there's no point in worrying; he reckons the tariffs being talked about just didn't make sense.

"You'd have to go through too much paperwork. We've been too long like this. If they do get an extension we'll be no better off. Let's just get this sorted," he said.

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Brendan Peoples

His neighbour Brendan Peoples, who has 17 suckler cows, also feels the tariffs being proposed do not make sense.

"If you're going across the land border into the North there's going to be no tariffs. How is that going to work? You'd find all the lorries going across the border. People don't know what's happening anymore. We're in the dark all the time," he said.

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David Macbeth

Raphoe farmer David Macbeth was selling cattle at the mart because he believes prices will fall further. The uncertainty, he said, hung over everyone and he is worried about prices going into the future.

With a 350 acre farm and 350 cattle, he said his 12-year-old son Sam was interested in farming but the next few years would tell the tale.

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Bill Ferry

For Bill Ferry, who has 100 cattle on his farm at Milford, said there are other major difficulties facing beef farmers that the Government could do something about immediately.

"My father reared nine of us dealing in cattle. The problem is it's impossible to deal cattle now because of the number of movements of cattle and the age. Once an animal goes over two years old the factory pays less even though there's no ID on the shelf on the age of beef," he said.

"For the first time in my life I have a shed full of cattle for killing. I don't even know if I can sell them. I borrowed money to feed these cattle and I'm showing 19 here today," he said.

He said he was getting more for what he produced in the 1980s than he's getting today.

"The Government needs to look to home first and do something about the movement of cattle," he added.

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