Commissioner has his head in the sand

DUP MEP Diane Dodds meeting ROI Agriculture MInister, Simon Coveney earlier in the year discussing the crisis facing the dairy sector
DUP MEP Diane Dodds meeting ROI Agriculture MInister, Simon Coveney earlier in the year discussing the crisis facing the dairy sector

DUP MEP Diane Dodds has commented on the inaction of the EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan to support the dairy industry in this time of crisis right across Europe.

You could not be blamed for thinking that an Irish Agriculture Commissioner should be in touch with the challenges facing agriculture, and more importantly perhaps, be willing to deal with such issues.

Unfortunately in this latest crisis, Commissioner Phil Hogan has been found wanting and many would say his head remains firmly buried in the sand on the issue of real and meaningful action for the dairy sector.

The Commissioner is well aware of the seriousness of the difficulties facing the dairy industry.

He has been lobbied for the last six months in the EU Agriculture Committee on the issue.

His own milk observatory figures have shown farmers are producing at a loss.

Farm protests are increasing and there has been intense lobbying from some member states and MEPs.

He will be even more aware of the situation facing Northern Ireland given that I have presented our case for almost a year. Then and now, I have made clear that what was happening in Northern Ireland was an early warning system for the EU. He failed to listen and the question remains; when will he take real and meaningful action to resolve the situation?

Over the past week – and in a move that may prove to be the game changer – the Irish Farmers Association and the Republic of Ireland’s Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, have become more vocal in relation to the difficulties facing dairy farmers in the Republic of Ireland. It is significant that temporary rises in intervention prices are now being discussed by these key players in the industry, and offered as part of the solution to crippling global markets.

But what next for the Commissioner?

As pressure builds from all quarters and the impending EU Farm Council on the 7th September to be held to discuss the issue of farm gate prices across all sectors, his response or package of measures will be judged on whether they take cognisance of the real problems and whether they deliver decisive outcomes that improve the situation for farm businesses in the short term.

It is my view, and widely supported by the industry, that this action should come in the form of raising the intervention price to help rebalance supply and demand. This will provide a much-needed reassurance to farmers that Europe is willing to help and most importantly place a floor in the market for dairy products. We make this argument with the 2009 precedent in mind, when realistic intervention prices sent a positive signal to the market, aided a quick recovery and returned a significant profit for the Commission coffers at a time of crisis.

However, no one should be under any illusions. Today’s crisis is much worse than 2009, and while we press for Mr Hogan to intervene, we would caution him from establishing a superficial review of the intervention price, with no tangible benefits for farmers on the ground.

Such posturing would only serve to further alienate him from the concerns, the needs, and realities of those continuing to suffer in this crisis.