Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: More needs done to help dairy farmers

We knew that the agri-food business would be one of the first sectors to be hit and among those to suffer most in a no-deal Brexit
We knew that the agri-food business would be one of the first sectors to be hit and among those to suffer most in a no-deal Brexit

Editor's Viewpoint

We knew that the agri-food business would be one of the first sectors to be hit and among those to suffer most in a no-deal Brexit.

But yesterday's statement from the Dairy Council spelled out the consequences in the starkest possible terms.

The industry is facing a crisis of epic proportions and a no-deal would be devastating for dairy farmers, rural communities and the Northern Ireland economy, according to Dr Mike Johnston of the Dairy Council.

What is most concerning is not just the message he delivered but the fact that he felt it necessary to do so.

As we now know, the Dairy Council has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to inform politicians in the UK, Dublin and Brussels of the threat to the dairy industry.

Implicit in yesterday's statement is the feeling that politicians, particularly at Westminster, have little empathy with the plight of Northern Ireland's dairy farmers.

The evidence would seem to point in that direction.

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The DUP which is supporting Boris Johnson's proposals to replace the backstop has pointed the finger of blame at Dublin and Brussels for refusing to take the new proposals seriously and engage fully with the UK Government.

But the blame game is little comfort to those men and women who rise in the early morning to milk their cows and repeat the exercise each evening. They now fear their livelihood will literally be poured down the drain like the milk which they could not get processed following a no-deal Brexit.

Neither Northern Ireland nor Great Britain can process all the milk produced in the province with 35% having to be sent to the Republic.

However the level of tariffs which would be levied after a no-deal Brexit would ensure that the industry is not viable.

Dairy farmers are already under severe pressure from the big supermarkets over prices and operate on a profit margin of 3% or 4%. They simply could not absorb new tariffs.

We have now reached the 11th hour in the Brexit negotiations and even the Prime Minister must realise that an extension beyond his October 31 deadline is inevitable if a deal is ever to be done.

He once said he would rather die in a ditch than ask for an extension.

If he doesn't ask he may well have to watch while one of the most important industries in Northern Ireland drains away in a ditch.

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