Northern Ireland

Brexit: How will it affect farming and food?

Hugh McCollum
Image caption Hugh McCollum has more than 200 acres and 300 head of beef cattle on his farm in County Londonderry

Hugh McCollum's father bought the family farm near Ballykelly, County Londonderry, back in the 1940s.

He has built it up to more than 200 acres and 300 head of beef cattle.

Hugh was working the land when the UK went into the EU back in the 1970s.

He said the transition away from subsidies will be "sore", but he will not be sorry to see the back of them.

'Consumers'

He believes subsidies artificially inflated the price of things like feed and fertiliser.

He would prefer to get a decent price from the market for the beef that he produces.

"We're going to have to rely on our consumers", he said.

Image caption Prof John Davis said if cheap food and liberal trade deals become the drivers it will be difficult for producers in Northern Ireland

He said people now have a choice to make between locally produced beef with high animal welfare and traceability standards and cheap imported meat where the standards may not be so rigorous.

And that's a key point in a much wider debate about what sort of food policy the UK government decides to settle on.

Will it favour local producers with costly environmental and welfare standards, will it plump for a cheap food policy based on imports, or will it try to find something in between?

Trade deals

Prof John Davis is an economist with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute.

He said if cheap food and liberal trade deals become the drivers it will be difficult for producers in Northern Ireland.

"It would put a lot of pressure on the industry, it would be a big challenge to remain competitive in a more global trading environment," he said.

Image caption UFU president Barclay Bell said some farmers were considering if they should continue in the industry

Concern about the shape of future subsidies and access to markets is making some farmers think very carefully about the future.

Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) president Barclay Bell said some are now considering whether they should continue.

"In the back of farmers' minds I think there is that realisation now that things are going to change," he said.

"In our discussions around the countryside, we are finding that some of the businesses are starting to think about where their businesses might be going and can they survive in the future, whatever it may look like?"

Hugh McCollum remains optimistic about the future, both for him and his son who is following in his footsteps.

He said he believes farming will be the "same game" just with "a whole new set of rules".

You can watch a special programme on Article 50 on BBC One Northern Ireland on Wednesday 29 March at 19:00 BST "Brexit - What Next" hosted by Andrew Neil and Tara Mills.

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