Dairy leaders call for 'Island of Ireland' agriculture backstop

Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)
Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The current all-Ireland dairy economy will be over if the UK pushes ahead with the threatened no-deal exit from the EU on October 31.

That is the stark warning from Dairy Industry Ireland director Conor Mulvihill who is now calling for agreement on an "Island of Ireland agriculture regulatory backstop" to ensure the continued flow of milk between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers Union has rejected reports that up to a third of the North's dairy herd would have to be culled in a worst case no-deal scenario.

However, industry sources have told the Farming Independent the figures are credible and come from within the Northern Ireland dairy industry at the highest level.

Significantly, agriculture officials in the North have gone on the record and not ruled out the cull of dairy cows.

However, they said it was a 'doomsday scenario' after all other options would be exhausted.

Despite this, Ulster Farmers Union president Ivor Ferguson said that the comments were "scare tactics" and "plucked out of the air".

"We certainly don't anticipate culling dairy cows. I don't agree with it, and nobody in the Ulster Farmers' Union would agree with it," said Mr Ferguson. Mr Ferguson did, however, reaffirm the UFU's position that a no-deal Brexit would be "disastrous" for Northern Ireland farmers.

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Last month, Tánaiste Simon Coveney admitted checks on animals and goods crossing the Irish border would have to take place if there is a hard Brexit.

The Government has accepted they will have to find a way of carrying out veterinary checks on livestock travelling from Northern Ireland into the Republic.

More than 800m litres of milk moves across the Irish border for processing each year.

Milk tankers cross the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland 33,000 times a year - or over 370 a day, according to ICOS. Northern Ireland produces around 2.2 billion litres of milk a year, of which some 30pc is processed in the Republic. Milk and dairy products move in both directions, sometimes several times.

A recent analysis by Dairy Industry Ireland of a no-deal Brexit spelled out the severe impact on the all-Ireland dairy sector.

"Current EU regulations would not allow the current free flow of milk - the milk would be treated the same as if it came from Bosnia as Northern Ireland would be seen as a third country in terms of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards," said Mr Mulvihill.

He said a severe downward pressure within weeks on the Northern Ireland milk price could be expected.

Dairy Industry Ireland's analysis shows that there would be a lack of processing capacity in Northern Ireland for the excess milk and also a lack of processing space in Scotland or the north of England if processors opted to ship milk to Britain.

Environmental issues

"Environmental issues would also rear their head with the disposal of milk as it's a perishable product. There are currently not enough facilities in Northern Ireland to dispose of it legally," Mr Mulvihill warned.

"This is project reality, not project fear," said Mr Mulvihill, warning that the UK government needed to face up to this quickly.

"The current political trajectory as set out by the current government in Westminster will put an end to the successful island of Ireland dairy supply chain, severely undermining a hugely successful economic success story for both parts of the island," he said.

Dairy Industry Ireland is looking for the agreement of the withdrawal agreement and a long transition period to negotiate a comprehensive Free Trade agreement to maintain the current dairy status quo.

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