Ulster Farmers' Union says talk of cattle cull post-Brexit is irresponsible
The Ulster Farmers' Union has branded "irresponsible" claims that a dairy cattle cull may be required to curb the production of surplus milk by farmers here in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Around 750 million litres of milk from Northern Ireland farmers are sent to dairy processors in the Republic ever year, including Glanbia Ingredients based in Kilkenny and Lakeland Dairies in Cavan.
Others send their milk to be processed here by entities like Belfast-based Dale Farm and Strathroy in Omagh.
But a report on BBC2's Newsnight cited claims from industry insiders that 45,000 cows would need culled as cross-border milk trade becomes more complex in a no-deal Brexit.
However, the UFU said it did not expect a cull to be necessary. President Ivor Ferguson said: "In the event of a no-deal, the dairy industry will find ways to cope if there is a surplus of milk, although it's not likely to be straightforward.
"Possibly there is capacity in our local processing sector to absorb any extra milk or we may be able to send it to Great Britain. There are other options and it is irresponsible to jump straight to culling cows as a solution."
He said a no-deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for farming here. Proposals from HMRC on avoiding a hard border in a no-deal include having zero tariffs on agricultural goods coming from the Republic. However, tariffs are likely on goods leaving NI and going to the EU, including the Republic.
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Mr Ferguson said: "Steep export tariffs, a 0% tariff on agriculture goods coming from the Republic, increased checks and regulations will all cause huge disruption and a logistical nightmare for family-run farm businesses."
He said the UFU was working on ways to mitigate the potential harm of a no-deal, such as reciprocal tariffs and payments to farms if farm gate prices collapse. "However, we continue to lobby politicians and the government so they understand the seriousness of a no-deal situation and the importance of avoiding it," he said.
Jim Allister, leader of pro-Brexit party the TUV, insisted the cull claim was "anti-Brexit propaganda".
"What those who peddle this nonsense never want to discuss is the opportunity for Northern Ireland agriculture which arises when the Republic prices itself out of the Great Britain market once it is required to pay the matching UK tariffs," he said.