Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Brexit on the border: 'Even routine things like moving silage from one farm to another will be affected'

Arthur Hughes and his son Ben (7) on their farm at Middleton on the Armagh border. Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Arthur Hughes and his son Ben (7) on their farm at Middleton on the Armagh border. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Ken Whelan

The Gardai and PSNI mounted a checkpoint near Arthur Hughes's farm in Middleton on the Armagh-Monaghan border a fortnight ago and within minutes there was a sizeable queue of vehicles running around the edge of his farm.

The checkpoint was put in place to film a promotional video for the two police forces but only gave Arthur a bad bout of deja vu as he immediately thought of the olden days of the 1980s and 1990s.

"We just don't want to go back to that. It was all queues and queues and border custom huts with nothing moving anywhere - just torture," he told the Farming Independent this week.

The impactof Brexit is a hot topic for Arthur's farming neighbours in and around Middleton and the border.

Read more: 'It's going to be a long road' - Border farmer on Brexit

He runs a 100ac dairy farm on the Armagh side of the border and a 100ac drystock farm on the Monaghan side in the Republic.

He doesn't believe that anyone really can predict the outcome of the upcoming talks.

"Everyone is in the dark about what is going to happen. We are getting bad vibes at the moment but everyone is really just guessing," he said.

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But ask him to "guess" what might be the impact of Brexit on his dairy and cattle enterprises and the predictions are mixed.

He is happy to take the word of LacPatrick about his milk.

LacPatrick is about to open a new processing facility in Tyrone and he believes the capacity at the plant will be sufficient to take all the available Northern milk.

"That's what they said at a recent information meeting so I don't think my milk from the Northern farm will have to go south to Monaghan," he points out. But it's a different story regarding the cattle enterprise in the Republic.

"I can sell my stock North or South with ease at the moment. If a hard border is re-introduced I probably couldn't sell my cattle in the North.

"I wouldn't have two prices to choose from," he says.

Whatever the final Brexit deal turns out like Arthur says that both a hard or soft border will have an impact on his enterprises.

"It's bound to affect prices and even routine things like moving silage from one farm to another will be hit," he says.

Arthur is also concerned that a hard border will increase the likelihood of cross border commodity smuggling which was rife during the years of the troubles.

This would bring added difficulties for communities.

"I am not saying it will happen again but when you have a border and tariffs people with an illegal bent of mind might start it all over again," he points out.

Overall he believes that agriculture in the South - with its high dependence on the British market, will come out the worse when the Brexit deal is eventually concluded.

But he warns that the absence of a political administration in Stormont is not helping when it comes to making the case for Northern farmers and ordinary people.

"We have to get the government in Stormont up and running as soon as possible," he adds.

"Theresa May had the winning ticket in a one ticket raffle in the Tory party last year and now wants her own mandate to carrying out these Brexit talks.

"But we have nobody making the case for the people in the North.

"When May wins the upcoming election everyone in the North will be forgotten in these Brexit talks unless we have a Stormont administration in place to make our case," he warns.

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