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Brexit’s Agri-food Fallout: Even Printer Ink Takes 6 Weeks to Arrive!

"Northern Ireland Agri-Food Producers Face Uncertainty and Logistics Challenges Amidst Ongoing Brexit Border Debate"

Since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, the question of whether there should be a border on land or down the Irish Sea has caused years of debate. This has resulted in extra headaches for agri-food producers in Northern Ireland. Getting products to and from mainland UK has affected everyone living in Northern Ireland. Businesses that had been dealing with suppliers and distributors for decades have had to find new ways of doing things.

Eileen Hall, the co-owner of Cavanagh Free-Range Eggs, has a flock of 73,000 hens across four sites. The base is at their farm in Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh. “We used to sell a lot of eggs over to the UK,” Eileen said. “Pre-Brexit, we decided to stay more local because everything seemed to be a lot of hassle. Our home market was growing, so we decided to concentrate on it instead. “Even getting ink for our previous printer was taking up to six weeks to come from the mainland in Europe and we were sweating a few times that it wouldn’t arrive in time, because it’s not something we can afford to be without.”

Eileen explained that they decided to change to a different brand of printer because the consumables supplier was based in Newry. This meant the team could get supplies as needed, instead of ordering well in advance of needing the product. “Even that, there were no guarantees that they would arrive on time. It really depended on the customs and whether they would let it through or not, as ink is now classed as hazardous,” Eileen continued. “Getting parts delivered from the mainland UK is another problem for us. They won’t deliver direct to Northern Ireland, so we have to order them and get them sent to our farm in Scotland, go over and fetch them and bring them back on the boat ourselves. “If we weren’t over and back to the farm in Scotland, we just wouldn’t be able to get machinery supplies from the mainland. It’s just a small example of the extra headaches in getting stuff to and from the mainland in the UK and in Europe,” she added.

Brexit and the failure to adopt the Windsor Framework have had a “shockingly bad effect on parts of our business”, according to Richard Orr, another Northern Irish food business owner. Richard runs William Orr and Son Potato Growers in Raffrey, Co. Down where they grow, pack, and distribute potatoes all across Northern Ireland. They grow around 10 varieties, including Home Guard and Dunluce for Comber Earlies, Queen’s and Maris Peer for mid-season and Navan, Maris Piper, Arran Victory, Dunbar Standard, and Rooster for their main crop. They also locally source potatoes from other growers.

“Probably the biggest problem is that we are not allowed to bring in any seed potatoes from Scotland anymore,” Richard said. “We are allowed to grow seed from new stock and replant these the following year; we then must source new seed for each variety every season to renew our seed stock. Brexit, in essence, has meant, we are now limited to sourcing all seeds from within Northern Ireland. Although Northern Ireland has a strong seed industry, some varieties are not grown here; also, the volumes grown are not as big, reducing supply and increasing cost,” he remarked.

Another major problem for the potato business is the paperwork, according to Richard. “For the ware potatoes coming from the mainland, we have to provide phytosanitary paperwork. That, added to the TSS [Trader Support Scheme] paperwork has meant that we have had to take on an extra member of staff purely to deal with the extra admin,” he stated. He added that they have also had problems sourcing plant protection products since Brexit. UK suppliers can apply for licenses to supply Northern Ireland companies, but it costs them extra, and many do not supply anymore because the market is too small.

“It is also more difficult to get seeds for the barley and wheat we grow as part of our crop rotations,” Richard continued. So, what would he like to see happen? “We would like to see a resolution of the problems with the Windsor Framework,” he said. “Surely, the time has come to come to a center ground and reach a compromise. Nothing is ever perfect, but for the sake of all business and the agriculture industry in particular, this needs to be resolved.”

Categories: Agriculture