Stormont farms department prepares for 'very challenging trading conditions' of no deal Brexit
CIVIL servants are looking at "funding streams" to support Northern Ireland farmers in the event of a no deal Brexit disrupting cross-border trade in milk and other commodities.
The Stormont department with responsibility for farming has warned of "very challenging trading conditions" if the EU and UK fail to get agreement before October 31.
There were warnings earlier this week that the sector could face a crisis overnight if the UK crashes out of the EU.
One industry insider told BBC Newsnight that up to 45,000 dairy cattle could be culled if there is a milk glut in the north caused by a no deal Brexit.
Around a third of region's milk goes to the Republic for processing but the imposition of tariffs and quality checks would make cross-border movement much less viable.
The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) dismissed the cull claims but did say that a no deal Brexit would be "catastrophic" for the north's agrifood industry.
Commenting on its prepartions for a no deal, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said officials were anticipating "significant demand" for Export Health Certificates, a document confirming certain information, health standards and regulations have been met.
"Daera has already recruited additional resources and trained existing staff to increase its capacity and capability," a spokesman said.
"Available staff will be assigned to certification duties on a prioritised basis as necessary."
He said the department recognised that a no deal scenario will "bring very challenging trading conditions".
"Alongside tariff barriers, the agrifood sector can expect to face non-tariff barriers, delays, additional administration and costs – there is no doubt that cross-border trade will face significant difficulties and we encourage the industry to plan early and to prepare their businesses," he said.
"We are not planning a cull of animals, rather we are exploring ways to support industry through contingency measures and potential funding streams."
Meanwhile, the UFU has claimed the current gap between the milk prices in the north and Britain had widened "unjustifiably".
The lobby group says farmers in Britain are paid 1.75 pence a litre more than their counterparts in Northern Ireland.
UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt said there were rumours that the north's farmer-owned processors planned further price cuts.
"Local dairy processors like to boast about how efficient they are, yet they are trailing behind their GB counterparts," he said.
"GB processors are facing the same market pressures – weak butter price and high volumes of dairy stock in stores – and yet they are able to pay 1.5p more per litre for milk."