Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Northern Ireland dairy farmers 'can't survive more price cuts'

Dairy farmer Mervyn Gordon is concerned about the cost of producing milk
Dairy farmer Mervyn Gordon is concerned about the cost of producing milk
William Cromie is concerned about the cost of producing milk
Mervyn Gordon - who is also the chair of the Ulster Farmers' Union's (UFU) dairy committee - believes that if more cuts to the price of milk came into effect, the industry just "couldn't survive"

By Ralph Hewitt and Allan Preston

A fifth generation Co Londonderry dairy farmer fears he could go out of business if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Mervyn Gordon - who is also the chair of the Ulster Farmers' Union's (UFU) dairy committee - believes that if more cuts to the price of milk came into effect, the industry just "couldn't survive".

Mr Gordon agreed with the Dairy Council NI's assessment that more than 3,000 farming families across the country are facing the loss of their livelihoods due to a no-deal Brexit, and said the industry is just about breaking even as it stands.

The Coleraine man explained that dairy farmers could go out of business right now as they are currently earning between 24p and 25p per litre of milk - but it takes at least 28p for farmers to produce a litre of milk.

"If you talk to any local consultant they'll tell you that to break even, or to even get a slight profit, it takes 28 and 29 pence per litre to produce a litre of milk, so at the minute we are just about breaking even as it stands," he said.

"You need profit to reinvest and keep everything going. If there were any more cuts we just couldn't survive.

"You may be able to survive for a short period of time but not much longer with a further cut in price.

"You couldn't operate if the milk was less than the production costs because there wouldn't be any point in it."

Mr Gordon added that the vast majority of farmers on the UFU's dairy committee are worried about the outcomes of a no-deal Brexit, while many of Northern Ireland's other dairy farmers have expressed their concerns.

"Nobody has rang me up and said, 'I'm scared of a no-deal Brexit' but talking to them and in conversation, they have expressed their real concerns over a no deal," he concluded.

Elsewhere, William Cromie (69) from Banbridge is the third generation in his family to work as a dairy farmer.

When he first started in 1965, he said 40 cows were more than enough to earn a good living.

Today, he has 160 cows and has to work seven days a week to keep on top of the business.

"If there's cows calving at 3am I'll have to rise to look after them, then I'll be up again first thing in the morning," he said.

Hiring extra help, he added, is often a luxury dairy farmers have to go without.

Currently paying 24p to produce a litre of milk, he said a price drop of 10p "will just finish dairy farmers".

"Nobody can produce milk for 14p a litre," he said.

"If there's an extra levy or tariffs crossing the border from north to south, from what I hear, it could cost a lot more than 10p a litre.

"There needs to be certainty, I would be very critical of the politicians to start with. We've been going through this for three years now and we're not one hair the wiser than we were at the start.

"I attended a public meeting with politicians at the Titanic Centre before the Brexit vote and the two messages I took out of it was that food prices were going to come down and wages would go up.

"Even at that stage, I had no confidence they had even studied what was going to happen after Brexit took place.

"To be quite honest, I think it's a nightmare situation for farmers today.

"We're already taking a low price as a result of Brexit as everyone's scared to buy forward.

"Our cost is going up on a daily basis. Our milk price is sitting at 24p which we were sitting at 20 years ago.

"It's also a concern with the beef farmers. It's the only industry we have left in Northern Ireland and they won't realise until it's not there how many other people it affects.

"The amount of jobs that are linked to farming is out of this world."

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