In the pasture lands of Co Wicklow, the Woods farm has passed down through three generations. It is, says its owner Angus Woods, a typical family operation, producing cattle and lambs that will end up, via processors and exporters, on supermarket shelves.
Today, however, this once straightforward passage faces an existential threat. Like so many Irish farms, the Woods’s business has adapted itself to meet the exacting demands of British retailers. For these farmers, Brexit is not just about losing a market, it is about tearing up the blueprint of Irish agriculture.
“She has great enthusiasm for the farm,” Angus says of his 10-year-old daughter Evie who might one day hope to take over. “[But] it’s vitally important that the current crop of farmers can make a decent living if we want to encourage the next generation.”
The looming spectre of “no-deal” Brexit, coupled with the demands of global warming and carbon reduction targets, has cast a long shadow over Ireland’s agricultural community and tradition.
“We can’t afford to wait and see [what happens]; we have businesses to run,” says Woods of the uncertainty emanating from London.
Last week, Irish and British farming organisations gathered nervously in the UK capital as its politicians prepared to overwhelmingly reject Theresa May’s moribund exit proposal.
The organisations ruminated on the prospect of a “crash-out” – Irish farmers stand to lose a vital market while their British counterparts face the dual threat of vanishing European customers and the importation of cheaper, lower quality food at home.
The day after their meeting, Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy met EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to push for reassurances on what Europe would do for Irish farmers in a worst-case scenario. Afterwards, the IFA said Mr Hogan “was clear” the commission was ready to support them. He said measures to address market disturbance were available, including intervention.
Whatever that might mean in real terms, there is growing unease at the perceived lack of attention at a political level. Mr Woods, who is also the IFA’s national livestock chairman, wastes no time setting out their stall: “The Government response to it so far has been inadequate. The UK is our biggest market: 298,000 tonnes of beef went in 2018; 250,000 into the rest of Europe and 25,000 outside of Europe.
“We have this huge market right on our doorstep . . . we have been supplying if for hundreds of years and now we could end up with a scenario that we might not have free access into that market.”
Like many Irish farmers, Mr Woods produces steers to suit the tastes of British customers, as opposed to the bulls more commonly consumed in Europe.