British farmers are trying to set up red tape and border controls in France that will cost millions of pounds – and maybe even pay for themselves.
Breeders in Britain cannot export their pedigree cattle, sheep and pigs to the EU because no one has built border checkpoints where vets can check the animals before entering the single market.
No private company in France has so far been willing to invest the millions of euros needed to build a facility, bringing British exports to mainland Europe to a halt since Brexit.
Now the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) plans to ask farmers to fund the facility themselves. Meanwhile, some breeders say they have only a few months to go before they stop exporting, while others are moving to the EU.
John Royle, the NFU’s chief livestock adviser, has sought to rescue British farmers who specialize in raising award-winning cattle, sheep and pigs that are then used to raise their own herds and herds.
“These are high-quality, highly sought-after, high-health animals,” he said. “They travel in better conditions than you or I would on a ferry or in the tunnel. Considering what Brexit has cost countries on both sides of the border, with a modest investment we could resume trading for the benefit of both UK and European livestock farmers.”
The problems of being a third country have become more apparent to travelers in Dover, with a six-hour delay last month caused by checks on British passports and a lack of border checkpoints. But ports in the UK and the EU have taken at least some steps to prepare for the Brexit bureaucracy hitting tourists. That does not apply to livestock.
In 2019, Royle started writing to ports from Hoek van Holland and Zeebrugge to Calais and Dieppe, requesting that a facility be set up, but none of them were interested. Finally, he found a small French family business called Qualivia that was willing to apply for the construction of a facility in Calais, just outside the port.
Qualivia, who Royle described as “really good ranchers”, has received approval from the French authorities and is expecting approval from the European Commission soon.
But the company has asked for guarantees that it will recoup the cost of building a border checkpoint, fearing the future of Britain’s cattle exports.
“Basically, what we’re doing now is helping Qualivia find the funds to build that infrastructure,” Royle said. “And that may require investment from British companies. Which is a ridiculous thing, isn’t it? Because of Brexit, we have to fund our own facilities in France to get our animals to European customers.” He added that while officials from the Ministry of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had tried to be helpful, “there has been no help from the government. Not at all.”
British breeders used to send about 500 consignments a year, ranging from a single Aberdeen Angus breeding bull or a pair of ewes to 30 breeding pigs.
Royle is helping a pig breeder who has settled in England because of the high animal health standards: “This is a large pig breeding business where they are breeding core stock, at the top of the breeding pyramid, and they may have to move to Europe, effectively shutting down their UK operations, which is not what they want to do.”
Another victim of the absence of bureaucracy is Geoff Roper, who imported Australian Lowline cattle to his Dorset farm, Wessex Lowlines 12 years ago, and saw the potential of a breed smaller than other cattle and mostly grass-fed only. be fed, instead of grain feed, making it more sustainable. “We have established several herds in Europe – in the Pyrenees, in Bordeaux and in Belgium, and in Switzerland and Germany,” said Roper. “And we have been doing that for several years – we are known in Europe as the center of expertise for these products.”
He has five European customers who have paid deposits for Lowlines and some have been waiting for two years. Roper estimates he has lost £150,000 so far.
“It just shut down our cash flow. I have half a million pounds of stock, half of which should go to Europe – 50 of them are ready now – but we can’t move them. I plan to continue funding this business until May next year. If we don’t know by May, we’ll have some major problems.” Roper’s farm manager, Sam Maughan, said: “This was totally unexpected – we trusted there would be a short stop and everything would be back up and running. A lot of money just seems to be wasted. Surely the British government has a responsibility to the British companies that look after this country.”
The government has been asked for comment.