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EU referendum: 'Both camps are making some very valid points'

Rachel Martin speaks with Northern Ireland food producers and firms to find out what they make of the EU debate and how they will be voting on Thursday

By Rachel Martin

Published 21/06/2016

Poultry farmer Martyn Blair lives in the Co Antrim village of Finvoy
Poultry farmer Martyn Blair lives in the Co Antrim village of Finvoy

A lack of 'concrete facts' in the EU debate is the biggest concern for Finvoy poultry farmer Martyn Blair.

Martyn runs his farm of around 100,000 laying hens with his father in the Co Antrim village.

Married to Barbara with a two-year-old son called James, he also runs a small beef enterprise of around 30-50 cattle.

He is a past-president of the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster and has a degree in agricultural economics at Queen's University Belfast and a Masters degree in marketing from Ulster University.

"The biggest factor at present has to be the uncertainty over concrete facts post-Brexit for farmers regarding trade and support. There seems to be plenty of positive spin but few hard facts or guarantees from the Leave camp," Martyn said.

"Within agricultural circles much of the debate surrounding the imminent referendum on Europe concentrates upon the future and guarantee of subsidies to support the industry, but unlike the majority of other sectors, poultry is entirely without this support payment from the EU.

"I often looked with envy upon those farms with a considerable Single Farm Payment, but I now, like so many of my fellow producers, believe we are better off without it as in my opinion it would encourage inefficiencies which we have fought hard to eradicate and subsequent dependency upon something which we should not need to make our businesses viable.

"But I do fully appreciate the importance and necessity of the structured support within so many of our sectors which are currently struggling. Accordingly then, the thinking of many poultry farmers shall be to potentially interpret the Brexit debate with differing stances than those in other sectors.

"I would have classified myself as an early Remain voter but as the time approaches for the ballot box, I find myself becoming more uncertain and pulled towards the middle.

"There are extremely valid points being put forward from both sides which continually sway my thinking but within my own farm business one issue which particularly grates and adds significant pressure upon our operations is the level of bureaucracy and apparent Brussels legislation which lands on my farm office desk to contend with.

"My biggest fear of leaving the EU is of course the access to the vast market and this well versed figure of 500 million consumers.

"From a poultry producer point of view and in particular a commercial egg farms perspective, our produce is sold entirely within the UK, but within other enterprises in our sector they depend heavily upon this expanding European marketplace.

"The decision to Leave is undoubtedly a risk. But with many sectors in the agricultural industry currently on their knees, many farmers and members of their families believe that this is a risk worth taking as things can get not worse.

"Will a British nation accept money being apportioned to a capital grants scheme or a modernisation scheme for farms when potentially the majority of the population will be saying: 'Surely this would be better spent within the NHS or the education system?'

"At least within the EU with all its faults, we do have access to a pot of money in some way. These details need to be clarified before the vote surely. I know within my circles of younger farming friends that we have varying opinions and ultimately the opinions are split rather evenly between definite stay, definite leave and then those like myself who are still waiting to be totally convinced towards one side.

"The agricultural industry in a small country like Northern Ireland is at the mercy of the vast majority of the general public within the UK as a whole who do not give any thought towards my farm paperwork nor the outlook for a Single Farm Payment."

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