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The UK would be prepared for no deal if energy hadn’t been wasted on a remain push

If some of the energy focused on a second remain campaign over the past three years had been channelled into achieving the best outcome, then our preparedness for a ’no-deal’ would be much further advanced, says County Armagh beef farmer John Henning.

With just 90 days until the UK is due to leave the European Union on October 31, does the new government at Westminster mean that Brexit is now finally a reality?


Certainly it would seem that the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and the appointment of his supportive Cabinet have energised government with a focus on leaving at the end of October.


Much has been written and said about Brexit since the EU Referendum in June 2016 and it is still hard to differentiate fact from fiction.


The working out of our new British Agricultural Policy, both nationally and within the devolved administrations, will be critical in providing some certainty following an uncertain time.




Sadly much nastiness has been evident since the referendum and it will take a long time for the resultant wounds to heal.


But on a positive note it is encouraging to see many individuals and organisations now focusing on how best to make Brexit happen rather than trying to thwart the result.


It is perhaps a pity that if some of the energy focused on Remain over the past three years had been channelled into achieving the best outcome, then perhaps our preparedness for a ’no-deal’ would be much further advanced.


Farming in Northern Ireland is largely grass based with almost 73 per cent of the industry’s Gross Margin generated from ruminant livestock.




The average farm size is just over 100-acres with 24,895 registered farm businesses, of which 88 per cent are classified small or very small – less than 1 Standard Labour Requirement.


Recently published data for the Northern Ireland Food & Drinks Processing sector in 2017 highlights turnover of £4.8bn of which 24 per cent were domestic sales in NI with 49 per cent of sales to Great Britain with only 15 per cent exported to the Republic of Ireland.


Collectively all sales of food and drink account for 32 per cent of manufacturing output in NI which again highlights the importance of the agri-food industry to the economy here where the effects of Brexit will undoubtedly have a significant impact given the land border with the Republic of Ireland and EU.


But the reality is that whilst the border today is largely invisible, it does still exist without presenting major day-to-day difficulties for farmers and the agri-food industry.




On the farming front our cattle are performing well with calving almost complete after a rather problematic season.


Despite this we had over 70 per cent cows and heifers AI’d within three weeks of the start of breeding season.


A couple of cows did not produce calves despite being PD’d in-calf, so one has already entered the food chain at eight-years-old, contributing almost £1,200 to help summer cash flow.


First cut silage was taken on May 20 but plans to make hay did not materialise due to inclement weather with the remainder cut for silage in late June.




Plenty of silage in stock now for the winter ahead so we should have a surplus for sale later in the year.


We managed to combine winter barley last week but the subsequent, and forecast, rain has delayed baling straw for a few days.


Grain yield was quite good but clearly impacted by rabbits early in the season so efforts to control these furry creatures will now be stepped up.


These winter feed stocks and current breeding decisions will effectively be realised in a post-Brexit era by which time a British Agricultural Policy should have replaced the present CAP.




Much of the work developing this policy took place with Michael Gove at Defra so it will be interesting to see how the new incumbent Theresa Villiers picks up the reins in Whitehall.


Despite hitting the ground running there is currently much speculation on how Boris Johnson will handle the top job as Prime Minister.


Early indications are positive with a lot of energy and enthusiasm amongst the new cabinet so it will be interesting to see if this can be maintained and if Brexit will be delivered by October 31.


Many believe that Mr Johnson styles himself on former PM Winston Churchill, of whom Clement Attlee said ‘50 per cent is genius, 50 per cent a bloody fool”.




Time alone will tell whether the same can be said of Mr Johnson and whether the percentages are similar, better or worse.


In spite of ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and its likely effect on agriculture, I remain confident that farmers and growers have the ability and resilience to meet the challenges ahead and indeed turn many of these challenges into opportunities.


Many farmers in NI did vote Leave in the referendum due to concerns about the future of CAP, increasing bureaucracy and memories of milk lakes, beef surpluses and grain mountains.


Despite much media comment to the contrary I have yet to meet a farmer who feels differently now with most confident in the ability of UK Agriculture plc to deliver for both farmers and the environment.


Going forward it will be increasingly important for farmers to engage positively with politicians and policy makers because, as former US President Dwight D Eisenhower said: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow (plough) is a pencil and you are a thousand miles from the corn field.”


John can be found tweeting at @johnhenningmoo

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