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Farmers 'could benefit from Brexit if consumers turn to local produce'

By Staff Reporter

Brexit could be a blessing for farmers, with the soaring cost of imports set to see retailers and consumers turn to home-grown food, according to the boss of a Northern Ireland company.

Jack Hamilton, director of Co Down pre-pack vegetable business Mash Direct, said local farmers "absolutely" stood to benefit after the June 23 vote sent the value of the pound down and the cost of imports up.

However, concerns over the status of EU workers continue to linger over the industry. Mr Hamilton also said that the decision to quit the bloc had prompted questions over the source of store-bought groceries.

"In the food service industry, the provenance conversation came up after the foreign exchange conversation," he added.

"In the UK, we still import a lot of our vegetables, which is crazy when we produce such high-quality vegetables here.

"With Brexit, it's making people question things more than they used to, and all of that is a positive if you're a UK farmer.

"If you're producing the stuff here, you can really go out and really shout about it, and people want to listen."

The firm grows and packs ready-cook vegetables including mashed potatoes, red cabbage, beetroot, cauliflower cheese and seasonal Brussels sprouts from its farms in Co Down.

Earlier this year, Mash Direct's Martin Hamilton said pulling out of the EU would be a "nightmare" for business.

But Jack Hamilton said: "All of this stuff is happening now, and retailers are wanting to talk about it and food services are wanting to talk about it all - it's creating conversations we want to have. Brand Britain is a bigger deal than it was 12 months ago."

The family-run business was founded by Mr Hamilton's father, Martin, in 2004 and has been growing steadily since.

Mr Hamilton expects full-year revenues to have reached £15m once annual accounts close in February.

However, Mash Direct is one of a number of businesses that may have to grapple with employee shortages in the future if EU nationals lose their right to work in the UK as a result of the Brexit vote.

Approximately, a third of the company's 180-strong workforce is made up of foreign nationals.

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