Documentary warns that some farmers may use Brexit as the catalyst to exit agriculture

RTE journalist and broadcaster George Lee sat down for an interview with AgriLand to discuss his documentary entitled ‘Brexit: Farming on the Edge’, which will be aired tonight (Monday, January 15) on RTE One.

Focusing on how Brexit threatens the future of Irish farming, George gave an insight into what Irish farmers are thinking about the challenge of the UK leaving the EU and what impact that will have on this side of the Irish Sea.

Uncertainty

“The whole issue is the uncertainty with regard to Brexit. Although we seem to have had an agreement in relation to the frictionless border, it really doesn’t nail down anything in terms of certainty,” George said.

The documentary makers travelled around to different parts of the country, in order to get farmers’ opinions on Brexit as a whole.

Elaborating on this, George added: “We included hill farming, marts, beef farming, dairy farming and young people in farming to try to find out what farmers really think of Brexit.

There was a great sense of stoicness; that was the general attitude at first sight, where farmers would say ‘we’re used to ups and downs’ and ‘if we have enough time to adjust we’ll adjust’ – but, they need time.

“They don’t want a shock; but, they are very worried about the uncertainty – whether it was environmental concerns, EU farm payments or the impact on sterling and prices.”

According to the broadcaster, the biggest concern is what is going to happen regarding EU farm supports without the UK’s input to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget. “That is the big issue when it comes to the fundamentals of their farm operation,” George said.

“The margins are already so tight and, with the importance of the EU supports, the big worry was will some of them be able to survive it.

Some land agents made the point that some farmers might use Brexit as the catalyst of exiting agriculture – particularly, those who are on more marginal productions; there are big concerns about the viability of it.

Ramifications on trade

George also underlined the present worries regarding trade with the UK; he noted that it became very clear – when speaking to the likes of Professor Emeritus of European Agricultural Policy at Trinity College Dublin Alan Matthews and IFA president Joe Healy – that the question on everyone’s lips is: What is the trade deal going to be?

“There are big concerns that east-west trade between Ireland and the UK is far, far more important than what goes on across the border.

The fact is that we use the UK as a land bridge to get all of our products to and from the European market; so that becomes a double whammy – because, you end up paying extra in terms of disruption both ways.

Filming the documentary got underway in the middle of October and finished in mid-December.

Commenting on the timing, George said: “When we were going around doing the filming we hadn’t got the agreement of the border – but, before we were finished filming we did and the thinkers that we spoke to didn’t see that agreement principle as the resolution of anything.”

The RTE programme features farmers in: north Co. Dublin; Elphin mart, Co. Roscommon; Connemara, Co. Galway; Enniscrone, Co. Sligo; Dingle, Co. Kerry; and north Co. Cork.

When asked what he found most surprising about the experience, George said: “All the time I was surprised by the practicalities of how farmers joined the dots and they realise that this is nowhere near over – and they are all very exposed by what is coming up and that things will be different.

“They feel they will have to continue to farm; they have always had to change, they have always had reform – but, the big thing is they need time to make those adjustments.”

Brexit: Farming on the Edge will be aired tonight at 9:35pm on RTE One.