Richard O'Hall is not one to hesitate.

He drives at breakneck speeds over country roads more accustomed to the gentle patter of Irish rain than a speeding stick shift. He hands over his work boots to an inappropriately equipped reporter without a second thought. He finishes his plate composed mostly of various potato varietals with gusto.

He also doesn't hesitate when asked how many agriculture-related jobs in Northern Ireland are at risk in a hard Brexit senario.

"All of them."

And he should know. Besides milking a few dairy cows himself, O'Hall is a journalist for multiple farming publications in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

"Farming has traditionally been the mainstay of the Irish economy," he said. "It remains, the largest economic sector within the country." O'Hall says a hard Brexit—one without a trade deal for Northern Ireland—risks more than 200 thousand jobs.

Those are the stakes—and the worst-case scenario Ireland's Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney is trying to avoid.

In that worst case, "you're talking about 40% tariff every time [a] dairy product crosses the border," he said in an interview with Annenberg Media. "That just makes that business totally unviable."

Dairy is a specific concern on the island of Ireland because those farmers and related businesses may have the most to lose.
That's because every day, millions of liters of milk produced in Northern Ireland are brought south for processing. Technically, that means they are crossing from the U.K. into Ireland. That's not a problem today, in part because of European Union single market rules that guarantee freedom of movement of goods.

The issue arrives when the U.K. leaves the EU. If Brexit negotiators cannot reach a deal that includes an arrangement that keeps movement across the border smooth and without tariffs, it's going to cause a big headache on both sides of the border—especially in the dairy industry.

In the North, that would mean farmers like O'Hall suddenly have fewer choices of processing facilities and a smaller market to sell milk products to.

In the South, dairy processing companies like the LacPatrick co-op are trying to plan for what happens if up to 85 percent of their milk supply is unreachable and yet mere miles away.

"We are going to have a real challenge satisfying customer needs in the Republic of Ireland," said Paul Crosson, group technical support manager at LacPatrick.

Even if there aren't tariffs, Crosson said the establishment of any type of border will cause problems for his industry. After all, milk goes bad if it has to wait for hours at a border checkpoint.

That's where Coveney comes in. As Ireland's chief diplomat, he's part of the negotiations over Brexit. Despite the many hiccups in negotiations in recent months, he said he is an optimist.

"I think will have some kind of a trade partnership agreement between the EU and the UK," he said.

But there's always the possibility talks turn sour.

"There are very few upsides here for Britain or for anybody else. This is damage limitation exercise," he said. "Unfortunately Ireland is caught in the crossfire. And we need to try to negotiate a position that as far as we can protects our own interests, which what we're trying to do at the moment."