Leaving the EU is a “leap in the dark and a risk not worth taking”, Elizabeth Truss, Environment Secretary with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said at the recent Balmoral Show.

Food and drink exports from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland worth £850m (€1079m) would face an uncertain future if the UK voted to leave the EU, she said.

Truss highlighted the vital trade relationship Northern Ireland’s farmers have with the EU – in particular cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland, which alone accounts for 65% of all the food and drink exports from the North.

The Environment Secretary said that family-run farms and innovative food and drink producers across Northern Ireland enjoy huge success in the EU, with over £1 billion of produce exported there in 2015.

“Northern Ireland particularly benefits from easy, hassle-free trade with the Republic of Ireland – a vital source of income for farmers and food producers.

“If we were to leave the EU, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not be able to negotiate a bilateral trade deal with the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland’s farmers would have no certainty on cross trade arrangements.”

Leaving the EU is a leap in the dark and a risk not worth taking, with no guarantees that such a good deal could be struck outside the EU.

“Northern Ireland’s world-class farmers and food producers are stronger, safer and better off in a reformed European Union.”

Food and drink exports account for over a fifth of Northern Ireland’s total exports, with food and livestock exports to the EU more than doubling in real terms since 1998.

During her visit to Northern Ireland the Environment Secretary met with Moy Park, the UK’s biggest poultry producer, based in Craigavon, to talk about the benefits of tariff-free access and common standards for food and farming businesses.

Outside the EU, Treasury analysis shows the UK will be worse off by £4,300 a year per household if Britain votes to leave.

Furthermore, DEFRA has said that it is not clear whether the Common Travel Area would be able to continue to operate between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and sustain the important free trade of goods for producers and traders.

As part of the EU single market, DEFRA has pointed out that Northern Ireland’s farmers producers can easily sell their goods to consumers in the Republic, and benefit from tariff-free access and common standards on labelling, safety and welfare.

Figures from DEFRA show that Northern Ireland’s food and drink export trade with the EU brings in over £1 billion to the economy.

Meat exports account for over a quarter of this export value, at £280m, with dairy and eggs a close second at £240m, the figures show.