Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt has warned that farmers in Northern Ireland are facing tariffs for importing feed into Northern Ireland from countries like Ukraine.

Speaking at a meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chestnutt pointed out that this situation is one not faced by farmers in the Republic of Ireland or on the UK mainland.

“At the minute we are in a UK customs zone, so any wheat we take in has to come in a UK trade quota,” he said.

When we would import that into Belfast, that is then classed as an ‘at-risk good’ until it is proven that it has not been over the border.

“This encourages a tariff and the amount of that tariff compared to last year’s figures is expected to be higher.

“The UK mainland could import feedstuffs from Ukraine on a UK trade quota with no cost, and the Republic of Ireland could import feed in from an EU quota with no costs, yet here in Northern Ireland were going to have extra costs.”

How has Brexit affected farmers?

Chestnutt said that farmers have initially seen no difference since the UK formally left the EU but warned that there will be potential issues in the future.

“On a farmgate point of view, January 1 has come and gone. We have initially seen no difference as of yet on the farmgate area from Brexit.

However this is early days as we are only five or six days in and I am sure there will be issues to deal with. There will be opportunities as well as issues.

“Stockpiling has meant that there currently isn’t a big issue. On day one of Brexit there was universal non-compliance.

“I was speaking to a Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] chief vet [who] said that people did not know what forms to fill out; the forms they did fill out were not right.

“He hopes that by January 8 there would be almost full compliance and that businesses are reacting quickly.”

‘Snags appearing’

Chestnutt added that farmers are now facing snags regarding moving animals between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland along with the importing of certain goods.

“There is snags appearing especially from Great Britain to Northern Ireland on century old trade of breeding livestock; seed potatoes; animal feed imports; fertilisers; chemicals and other things like that.

“While I said that on day one farmers on the farmgate had not seen any difference, there has been no livestock coming in,” Chestnutt added.

We have a century old trade with the UK mainland in breeding livestock  and that trade has all but finished.

“Now our animals if we take them to the UK and we have small pedigree farms that punch above their weight, some of those small businesses, that is their business.

“We are recognised in the UK as being very strong in that field of genetics and we have done that over the years by being able to travel over and show our wares off.

We are now faced with the possibility of going to a sale and if the animal doesn’t sell, we will not be able to take the animal home for six months because it is not resident in the UK.

“I had not realised we had left the UK. There is UK in the tags of our animals, yet our animals have to stay for six months to have that residency before they come back to Northern Ireland,” he concluded.