Sheep farmers in this part of Britain fear losing access to processors in the Republic of Ireland if the border was to close
As the countdown for the United Kingdom to exit the European Union continues, Northern Ireland sheep farmers are considering the potential outcomes of a deal or no-deal Brexit.
Currently, the sector is experiencing high prices for finished lambs in Northern Ireland with optimum 20 kilogram lambs fetching $7.60 per kilogram carcass weight.
However, the biggest concern for Northern Ireland sheep farmers is how Brexit will affect the industry and more importantly how cross border trade with the Republic of Ireland will play out should a hard border or tariffs come into play.
There are around 9,000 sheep farmers in Northern Ireland with 900,000 ewes. Half of the lambs produced, totalling around 400,000, are sent south to meat plants in the Republic for processing each year.
Northern Ireland does not have the capacity to process these high numbers in peak production times and must send them south.
The fear is, depending on the Brexit outcome, if a hard border is established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, that vital outlet could be lost.
Carrickfergus sheep farmer and National Sheep Association Northern Ireland representative Edward Adamson said a no deal is not an option.
He runs a flock of 600 Lleyn ewes and sells fat lambs through his local producer group to Dunbia Meats and some as store lambs for others to fatten.
“A no-deal Brexit could bring no end of problems to our sheep sector. If a hard border was established, and we hope it won’t, then we could face tariffs around 45 percent to take the lambs south,” he said.
“More importantly, we could also face cheaper imports of lamb from places with much less welfare standards than we do, coming in to swamp our market.
“The southern market is a lifeline for local sheep farmers and if it was to end we could witness many farmers with less than 100 ewes quitting the industry as it just wouldn’t be feasible to continue,” he said.
If tariffs and a hard border were to become barriers to sending the lambs south, there may be options to send the lambs live through the mainland United Kingdom, which would cost a lot less than the tariffs to the Republic of Ireland might be.
“Sending lambs live would incur costs but not as much as the tariffs would be. There is, however, the added concern about shipping more live animals and the backlash from activists regarding this,” he said.