A bad time to expand: Brexit stalls beef farmer’s ambitions
With the possibility of hard Brexit looming, farmers are erring on the side of the caution
Farmer Shay Galvin: “The incomes in beef farming are similar to what they were 15 years ago, but there is no account for inflation”
Shay Galvin had been planning to expand beef production on his farm and build new sheds, but due to uncertainty around Brexit, and recent fluctuations in the value of sterling, he has shelved his plans.
“We were looking at upscaling our beef production unit, but at the moment indicators are that we should probably be scaling back, because if the market in the UK goes or dwindles at all, it will be very hard to sell beef from Ireland, ” Mr Galvin said.
The UK leaving the EU poses a challenge for farmers around the country. Forty per cent of Irish food and agricultural exports go to the UK, so any reintroduction of Border controls or tariffs will hit farmers North and South hard.
Mr Galvin, along with members of his family, farms 700 acres in Carrigeen, Croom, Co Limerick. The recent drop in sterling has contributed to a drop in the price of cattle. Mr Galvin estimates that there has been a drop in price of €50-€60 per head of cattle.
“It’s been a long time since there were that many fluctuations,” he said. “It’s normal that it is a very gradual fall in beef prices because of currency fluctuations, but at the moment it could fall an awful lot one week and it could change very fast due to the uncertainty of Brexit,” he said.
“Our farm plans are based on the price of beef staying somewhere similar to what they were over the last two or three years, but if the price of beef drops by 15 or 20 per cent, which they reckon would happen if there was a hard Brexit, that would throw all our plans out the window. We would be in a loss-making situation, better off not expanding and not borrowing.
“The incomes in beef farming are similar to what they were 15 years ago, but there is no account for inflation,” he said. Mr Galvin trained as a civil engineer, but gave it up to go into farming, something he always wanted to do. However, he still keeps up some engineering work to supplement his farm income.
“Very few beef farmers can rely solely on their income from farming,” he said. “An awful lot of households have ... part-time jobs or other sources of income.”
Outside of Brexit, the weather is the great unknown in farming. “Weather and the price are the two big variables in farming, and the farmer has no control over either of them,” he says.