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Northern Ireland farm funding could be halved by 2030 because of Brexit: expert

Warning: Michael Haverty
Warning: Michael Haverty

By Michael McHugh

Northern Ireland farm subsidies could be halved by 2030 because of Brexit, an industry expert has warned.

Farmers will have to do more with less money due to changes envisaged under any scenario short of remaining in the EU, said Michael Haverty, a consultant from The Andersons Centre.

Any kind of exit from the EU will see the UK leave the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which has underpinned the sector's finances for decades.

"The fear seems to be that, without some commitment, future politicians will raid farm funding for other purposes," Mr Haverty said.

"We don't believe that funding will disappear completely, but it will be at much lower overall levels in a decade."

Mr Haverty added that farm funding could fall by as much as 60% by 2030.

Last summer the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs launched a consultation around the CAP.

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It is intended to boost competitiveness and ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the sector.

Productivity and protecting the environment are among the department's priorities.

Mr Haverty said local farming faced an uncertain future.

"Relative to the world market, Northern Ireland produce is relatively expensive," he added.

"Therefore, a quality-focused market approach, emphasising and enhancing the unique selling points of Northern Ireland produce, is crucial."

A conference supported by the Irish Farmers Journal and the Livestock and Meat Commission on the prospects for Northern Ireland's agriculture industry was held in Armagh yesterday.

It also addressed concerns around labour shortages in, for example, fruit-picking.

A government white paper has suggested five-year permits would be available for higher-skilled workers.

Mr Haverty said the Government's Migration Advisory Committee appeared to want less cheap labour, so that productivity would be boosted.

But he added: "It is not clear that the current proposals really understand the situation in the agrifood sector."

Statistics have also shown the employment of indigenous workers is relatively static.

"This suggests that immigrants have not taken locals' jobs," Mr Haverty said.

"Instead a ready supply of good-quality and cheap labour has allowed the sector to grow. That may have actually supported higher-paid domestic jobs."

Mr Haverty also warned that without a deal there would be a degree of "chaos".

"Profitability is likely to be down because the costs involved with any trade, imports or exports, are a deadweight loss to the farming sector," he stressed.

His intervention came as Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson welcomed the further extension to Article 50 until October 31.

"It is good news for agriculture that a no-deal situation on April 12 has been avoided," he said. "However, this pattern of taking the UK to the Brexit cliff edge cannot continue.

"This extension must be used constructively. The Prime Minister, the Government and the rest of Parliament must put the interests of the country first and agree a way forward for the UK to leave the EU with a deal before October 31.

Belfast Telegraph