COMMENT: Real support measures are needed

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Let’s hope the EU authorities come back with a constructive response to the case made by the UK farm ministers, on Monday of this week, for Europe to step up to the plate and put real support measures in place for agriculture.

Never before has the industry been under so much economic pressure. And let’s not forget that Brussels is directly responsible for a sizeable proportion of the current mess, in light of Russia’s ongoing import ban on EU food products.

This factor alone should be compelling enough to have Brussels re-double its effort to support European farmers, without the need for additional pressure being applied by individual member states.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has a key role to play in making a real difference for farmers over the coming months. Over the past year he has made numerous commitments to producers, promising to investigate the buying activities of the supermarkets being one of his core policy objectives. But, as yet, it has been all talk and no delivery. All of this has to change – and change soon.

Given current circumstances, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and other farming organisations have every right to demand that Brussels steps in and provides more direct support for producers. This can take the form of enhanced intervention, private storage aids and export refund related measures.

It beggars belief that the EU has not acquiesced to any degree on the demands made by farmers for improved dairy intervention prices. The fact is that Europe has actually made money from taking this approach over recent years. It’s a very simple theory: product is bought in for an agreed price and then sold on by Brussels, once markets start to improve. In fact, one could argue that a realistic intervention system is possibly the most effective way of countering the impact of market volatility within the dairy sector.

But all of this is detail. The bottom line is that the EU must make a strong and active commitment now, pledging its genuine support for Europe’s farmers over the coming months.