Sheep farmers are calling for plans to be put in place to protect the future of the industry as a no-deal Brexit looks more likely than ever.
It comes as the government admits that there is an inevitability that the UK will exit the EU without a deal on 31st October.
Farmers have repeatedly expressed concern at the serious damage a no-deal scenario would cause the sheep sector.
This is mainly due to the high volumes of UK lamb currently exported to the EU, some 96% of the total export market.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) has repeatedly called for a 'no-deal or disorderly Brexit' to be 'avoided at all costs'.
“We are hugely alarmed by the rhetoric of Boris Johnson and his new cabinet in recent days – even though this may be part of a negotiating tactic,” Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive said.
“If in the event of a no-deal Brexit we lose EU access for UK sheepmeat, then a plan is needed to ensure farming businesses do not go under, that capacity and confidence is maintained so we can still operate once market access is restored.”
He added: “There are a number of steps that are immediately essential and cannot be put off until October. In the event of an acrimonious no deal we could still be in a position where access to the EU is entirely closed.
“If not then tariff relief is our preferred option to keep the market functioning.”
Focusing on UK market
The NSA also believes that steps must be taken to temporarily close the UK to sheepmeat imports while farmers are unable to export and focus on getting production into the domestic market.
Sheep producers admit that this will not be easy given the huge volumes of lamb that are usually exported.
However, if plans are put in place now to invest in cold storage capacity then, using public procurement markets such as the armed forces, schools and hospitals, the industry believes it could make the most out of the situation.
Mr Stocker said: “What absolutely must not be allowed to happen is a mass cull of lambs with no attempt to get them into the foodchain.
“This would be an obscene waste and would have future capacity impacts for our sector. It can be avoided if the right steps are taken now.”
NSA has also stated that getting the UK listed as a third country able to trade with the EU will be a 'matter of urgency' in a no-deal scenario.
It said that a support system needs to be designed now to offset the 'debilitating impact' that WTO tariffs would have.