Belfast Telegraph

Fears over EU market access and subsidy cuts vexing Northern Ireland farmers

By John Mulgrew

Uncertainty around what access Northern Ireland will have to EU markets and the prospect of a cut in subsidies remain the biggest issues facing agri-businesses here, it has been claimed.

And a boost in exports for farmers and food producers due to the cheap pound may be temporary, according to Danske Bank's head of agri-business Robert McCullough.

"We are operating in one of the most lucrative markets in the world and this presents us with huge opportunities," he said.

"The domestic UK market is only 76% self-sufficient and globally populations and incomes are rising, so we need to find ways to maximise how we sell into those markets.

"Northern Ireland producers meet high expectations for provenance, traceability and welfare, and with the ability to shape our own farming policies and a competitive advantage created by the weakness of sterling, there are opportunities for the sector to further increase the contribution it makes to the local economy.

"We know there are challenges, and not just from Brexit. The exchange rate benefits may be short-lived and there is a lack of clarity on political support for the agriculture sector, which has traditionally been weak at Westminster, so it is important we have a local minister in place sooner rather than later."

He added: "In terms of the financial support that will replace payments that many farms currently rely on from Europe, there is also a high chance they will be asked to do more with less."

Danske Bank economist Conor Lambe, who was speaking alongside Mr McCullough at a business event in Belfast, said in the long-term there was "considerable uncertainty on the horizon for local farmers".

"Questions remain around what access Northern Irish businesses will have to the EU market, including the Republic of Ireland, once the UK leaves the EU," he said.

"While funding to farmers has been guaranteed until 2020, it is not yet clear what will happen in the years to follow.

"The weaker sterling should provide a short-term boost to agri-food businesses that sell overseas.

"This is particularly pertinent for dairy firms within the food and drink processing sector, where exports make up around 45% of total sales."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Farmers' Union has welcomed a report commissioned by the National Farmers' Union that said the industry added a £486m boost to the Northern Ireland economy each year.

Belfast Telegraph