Some important industry figures have warned, if the new higher tariffs are applied to British milk in the wake of a no-deal Brexit, some 45,000 dairy cows could be culled in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is particularly in danger as about one-third of its diary output is processed in the Republic of Ireland, which may continue to be part of the EU.
As promised by the newly elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October and a source claimed the culling of cattle could begin within weeks of that date if that happens without a mutual deal.
Officials and ministers from the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), have been alerted about the potential for a “major cull of dairy cattle, but they are not listening,” said news sources. In a statement, Defra said: “A widespread cull of livestock is absolutely not something that the government anticipates nor is planning for in the event of no-deal.”
“We will always back Britain and Northern Ireland’s great farmers and make sure that Brexit works for them,” it said.
“The government is boosting its preparations to ensure we are fully prepared to leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances,” it added. Another industry insider said that despite their warnings there had been a “metaphorical shrug of the shoulders from ministers”.
In Northern Ireland, there are near about 310,700 dairy cattle and each year the firm exports 700 and 800 million litres of milk to the Republic of Ireland. Currently, the average trade price of 1 litre of British milk is 26p. It is being suspected, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, where 19p tariffs could be applied, that price would be pushed up to 45p.
This is not that the added tariffs are the only reason behind the issue, customs checks and paperwork relating to traceability and standards could also make the situation further complicated.
An industry insider expressed fear that “Dairy herds have to be milked, it’s not like you can leave the milk in the cows they would bloat up and ultimately die.”
“If there is no market, and farmers cannot sell their milk, they could only keep going for a very short period,” he stated.
“We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of liters of milk going to waste, and then the farmers would have no choice but to reduce their herds,” he added. If the government decides to impose a 0% tariff on dairy products, North Ireland dairy farmers and the rest of the UK may face a further threat.