Balmoral Show Day 3, 2016: Full results, video and pictures - Minister issues stark warning for farmers in event of Brexit
Farm incomes in Northern Ireland could be hard hit in the event of Brexit, UK Environment Secretary Liz Truss has warned.
Visiting the Balmoral Show yesterday, the minister sang the praises of Northern Ireland companies such as Moy Park, which are investing in value added products.
She said the province exported £1 billion of food and drink produce to Europe every year, an activity that supported a huge number of jobs.
"What I am here saying today is that if we left the single market, it would be very bad news of Northern Ireland, for businesses and farmers," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Companies that are currently able to freely export into Europe would face border checks and that would mean an additional level of regulation.
"They could face tariffs too - there is no country that isn't a full member of the EU that doesn't have some kind of restriction on exports.
"£1bn of food and drink is exported to Europe every year and that supports a huge amount of jobs in the Northern Irish economy.
"I think it could cause a serious impact on farm incomes.
"It would be foolish to take for granted single market access with all the benefits it brings, particularly all the cross- border trade into the Republic."
Her comments were in stark contrast to those of her Cabinet colleague, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, who was also doing the rounds at the Balmoral Show.
She has insisted that border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic would not need to be restored in the event of the UK leaving Europe, and the land border would be as "free flowing as it is today".
Ms Truss also warned that food and drink exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic worth £850m would face an uncertain future if there was a Brexit.
Cross-border trade with the Republic accounts for 65% of all the food and drink exports from here.
As part of the EU single market, local farmers and food producers can easily sell their goods to consumers across the border, benefiting from tariff-free access and common standards on labelling, safety and welfare, the minister pointed.
She warned that farmers could face crippling tariffs to sell their goods to Europe and a red tape "double whammy" of different rules around inspections and labelling to sell abroad and at home - two sets of regulations, rather than one. Northern Ireland sells a huge proportion of its food and drink exports to the EU - 83% compared to the UK average of 60%.
Its food and drink export trade with the EU brings in over £1bn to the economy, and meat exports account for over a quarter of this export value at £280m, with dairy and eggs a close second at £240m.
"Northern Ireland particularly benefits from easy, hassle-free trade with the Republic of Ireland - a vital source of income for farmers and food producers," the minister added.
"If we were to leave the EU, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not be able to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the Republic of Ireland.
"Northern Ireland's farmers would have no certainty on cross trade arrangements. Leaving the EU is a leap in the dark and a risk not worth taking, with no guarantees that such a good deal could be struck outside the EU.
"Northern Ireland's world-class farmers and food producers are stronger, safer and better off within a reformed European Union."
During her visit the Environment Secretary met with Craigavon-based Moy Park.
It is the UK's biggest poultry producer, and the discussions between the two concerned the benefits of tariff-free access and common standards for food and farming businesses.
This is the province's Year of Food and Drink, and its rich food and drink scene boasts three foods with protected EU status - Lough Neagh Eels, Armagh Bramley Apples and New Season Comber Potatoes.
The minister said 50,000 jobs here could be linked to trade with the rest of the European Union.
In 2014, almost £4bn of goods were traded across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, benefiting from tariff-free access.
From 1998 to 2014 exports to the Republic grew by 86% in real terms.