One in every eight Irish jobs is in agriculture and food processing, or agrifood. Proportionally, that makes the industry as important to Ireland as the car industry is to Germany. In the U.K. province of Northern Ireland, where 1.8 million people live, the agrifood industry accounts for about 70,000 local jobs.
Because of its strong market position in the U.K. - which is the destination for 37 percent of Irish food and drink exports - and highly integrated supply chains across both Ireland and Northern Ireland, farmers' and food processors' jobs are particularly vulnerable to any change in trade and border policy resulting from Brexit.
"One unanswered question that affects every dairy company in Northern Ireland, and indeed in the Republic of Ireland, is the market displacement. What access are we going to have post-March 2019 to those markets we have serviced for many many years?" asked Gabriel D'Arcy, chief executive of dairy cooperative LacPatrick, whose suppliers number more than 1,050 farmers across both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.
"It's hard to know exactly, but almost any scenario that we can envisage will be negative," TJ Flanagan, chief executive of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), told CNBC in Dublin. "We currently import about 800 million litres of milk per annum from the U.K. That's about 100 truck movements every day of the year, from north to south." ICOS represents more than 130 co-ops and livestock marts across Ireland.