‘Agriculture is on the brink of a catastrophe’

Waringstown milk producer Charlie Weir is calling on as many farmers as possible to attend the specially convened meeting of the Stormont Agriculture Committee, which will meet tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon to discuss the critical economic problems now impacting on local agriculture.

Mr Weir is one of the four farmers giving evidence to the committee.

“This is a time of deep crisis for our farming sectors,” he said.

“Debt levels have risen to alarming levels within many farming businesses. Significant numbers of producers are in deep distress, some even contemplating suicide, given that they are not able to pay their bills. At the root of the problem is the fact that farmers are not receiving realistic prices for their produce. And these problems are not of producers’ making.”

Mr Weir will be asking the members of the agriculture committee to recommend the introduction of a financial aid package for farmers, similar to that introduced in France last week. These measures will entail the French government engaging with banks to restructure all medium and long-term debts for farmers in difficulty with the support of credit mediation. A series of tax incentives, including the relaxation of the current VAT regulations, is also included.

“If the money cannot be fund in Belfast to make these measures reality here, then our politicians may sort the matter out with London,” Weir said.

“Local agriculture is on the brink of a catastrophe and our politicians must recognise this reality now. Almost every sector is affected. But if farmers do go to the wall in significant numbers, the impact on the economy as a whole will be equally damaging. Production agriculture underpins a food sector with an annual output in the region of £3.7bn.”

Mr Weir regards Thursday’s agriculture committee meeting as an opportunity for farmers, right across Northern Ireland, to highlight the scale of the problems they are now facing and for the Stormont Executive to introduce meaningful, industry-wide support measures.

“It would also be important for members of the general public to come up to Stormont on Thursday afternoon,” he said.

“They must be made fully aware of the real crisis now unfolding within the farming industry. If steps are not taken to sort this matter out, the end result will be a total breakdown in the supply of locally produced food to consumers here in Northern Ireland.”