Can beef farmers handle no-deal Brexit ramifications?

Structural changes within the Irish beef sector are very likely if a no-deal Brexit occurs, and farmers will adapt accordingly to those changes when the time comes.

These were the sentiments expressed by Dr. Kevin Hanrahan, head of Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme, to AgriLand this week.

Dr. Hanrahan – who was speaking in the aftermath of the publication of a Teagasc report in respect of the matter – also pointed to the fact that those changes were already transpiring and would therefore accelerate in the case of a no-deal scenario.

“We looked at a lower level of productivity and the process of structural change within that; there was the view that the smaller farmers would be the hardest hit first. The reality is, however, that isn’t necessarily how it will work,” said Hanrahan.

Meanwhile, regarding the beef side of things, the Teagasc expert said farmers in that sector have already begun adjusting to the structural changes that are taking place.

“With regards to full-time beef farmers who don’t have an off-farm job, some may change the type of farming they are doing,” he added.

Hanrahan continued: “They will ask themselves questions like: Do I look for an off-farm job? Do I reduce the level of activity on the farm? Do I move to less intensive farming?

“They may consider driving a truck or taking up another type of job outside of the farm.”

‘Boom to bust’

The Teagasc expert went on to say that during the Celtic Tiger years many suckler farmers reduced the level of activity on their farms and found employment in the construction industry.

“Then many of those farmers went back into farming; some took full-time positions in other sectors and farmed part-time, in the evenings, for example.”

Also Read: Brexit: Tariffs could force Irish beef farmers out of the British market

And while he admits that structural change is inevitable – with a no-deal Brexit – Hanrahan fervently believes that Irish farmers are “very adaptable” to change.

He also pointed to debt burden and the lack thereof, regarding Irish farmers.

I don’t think that structural changes are going to have a huge impact and that is because Irish farmers don’t have huge debt.

He continued: “Many farmers in Ireland sit down around the table with their wives and they talk things through.”

‘Beef industry on its knees’

Separately, Beef Plan Movement co-founder and chairman Eamon Corley told AgriLand earlier this month that there were 12 licences pending for mainland China in terms of Irish beef exports.

The chairman said that there is a growing market for beef in China, adding that this has been the case for the last couple of years.

He also pointed out – that in his opinion – “the overall problem in the beef sector is basically the anti-competitive practices that have driven the beef industry to its knees even prior to Brexit”.

Corley continued: “In many cases the factories have used Brexit to drag prices down even more than they should be at this stage.

“Regardless of the outcome of Brexit that’s a situation that needs to be sorted. It’s probably particularly prevalent the fact that Brexit is now looming.”