Call for meeting on deepening dairy crisis

UFU annual meeting at Greenmount. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

UFU annual meeting at Greenmount. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union is calling for a meeting with Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill and the banks in the early New Year to discuss the deepening financial crisis within the dairy sector.

President Ian Marshall said a concerted response needs to be developed to this challenge, otherwise the industry runs the risk of losing a number of its most efficient dairy farming businesses.

He added: “These matters should also be discussed by the entire membership of the Supply Chain Forum and I welcome the fact that the minister intends hosting the next meeting of this group in January.”

Meanwhile, Michelle O’Neill has written to EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan, requesting a hike in dairy intervention prices.

“Throughout 2015 I have been calling on Commissioner Hogan to raise the intervention price given the difficulties facing our dairy farmers,” she explained.

“I was disappointed to note that in October 2015 Commissioner Hogan said he did not agree with my views on raising the intervention price, and as recently as last week, I have written to Commissioner Hogan again to register my concern that prices here continue to remain at an extremely low level and that our farmers are doubly disadvantaged because of adverse exchange rate impacts.”

The weighted average dairy price from January to October 2015 in Northern Ireland was 32% below the 2014 level.

O’Neill said that October, just past, saw average farmgate prices sitting at 20.4 pence per litre. This is still almost 10% below the current EU weighted average.

“My concern for the dairy sector is such that I allocated our entire allocation of EU targeted financial aid to dairy farmers.

“Payments to these farmers began on 16 November. I have also prioritised making CAP Direct Payments in full to all farmers.

“Payments began on December 1 with 95% of eligible farm businesses receiving payment in December.

“While the enhanced EU aid made available, together with direct payments should help ease the immediate cash-flow concerns of our hard-pressed farmers, I am very concerned that any relief will be short-lived.

“I remain convinced that raising the intervention price will put a floor in the market and I’m calling on Commissioner Hogan to, at the very least, initiate a review of the intervention price.”