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‘Question mark’ over future of local sheep farming in worst case Brexit scenario

Shetland NFU president Cecil Eunson. Photo: Shetland News
NFU branch president Cecil Eunson.

THERE would be a “fair question mark on continuing sheep farming” in Shetland if the UK did not secure a free trade agreement upon leaving the European Union, according to the isles’ local NFU chairman.

Cecil Eunson said local farmers and crofters would have a “major problem” if new levies were imposed on exporting products to Europe.

He was responding to a new report from Scotland’s Rural College which painted a bleak picture for the country’s farming industries should a free trade agreement not be in place after Brexit.

It suggested that sheep stocks in Scotland could halve in the years following Brexit due to rising costs and more farmers transferring from sheep to cattle, which is predicted to have better prices.

The report was discussed at meeting of the Shetland NFU branch earlier this week and while Eunson said its headline findings were from “worst case scenarios”, he believes there is “major concern” in the isles.

tThere is a question mark over whether sheep farming in Shetland will remain viable. Photo: Shetland News

“These are some of the worst case scenarios and hopefully we won’t end up with a worst case scenario,” he said.

“But we really will be looking for union and government to be pushing for the retention of a free trade agreement.

“And until we start to see a bit more clarity coming out of the Westminster Government, it will be difficult.”

Eunson said “we really have to push to keep the export marketing going” at the same time as lobbying for direct support payments to carry on.

“Both parts of it we need to continue with,” he said.

“The main one really is to ensure that we have a market. If the thing was opened up and we then had to pay a levy going into Europe, we’d have a major problem.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said if there was a post-Brexit emphasis on getting more cheap meat imported into the UK, then that will “have a detrimental impact on crofters and farmers in Shetland and across the country”.

“We cannot compete on cheap food. We produce quality livestock and finished products for households, restaurants and other buyers. That must be protected and government must recognise that,” he said.

Meanwhile, NorthLink Ferries has reaffirmed that they offer freight sailings for livestock throughout the week, as well as on passenger vessels.

The local NFU branch had raised concern that some producers experienced delays of at least a week in shipping livestock south in the winter because NorthLink would only take it on a Wednesday, meaning cancellations in bad weather proved costly.

Eunson admitted that “as producers we have got to be slightly more flexible” with regards to thinking ahead when it comes to shipping livestock when there are bad weather forecasts.

A spokeswoman for NorthLink Ferries said the company is “currently offering freight sailings on various days throughout the week as well as the shipping of livestock on passenger vessels.”