Dairy crisis: O’Neill meets DEFRA Minister to seek support for Northern Ireland’s farmers

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has said she has had a ‘frank and constructive discussion’ with DEFRA Minister Liz Truss on the crisis facing dairy farmers in Northern Ireland.

The Minister led a delegation to London earlier today (Tuesday) to outline the specific difficulties facing the industry and to ask the Secretary of State to press the European Union for an increase in its intervention threshold.

Speaking after the meeting, the Minister said: “We had a frank and constructive discussion with Liz Truss today. It was very important for her to understand the difficulties facing farmers in the north. Our industry depends heavily on exporting and it has been impacted severely by a combination of adverse exchange rates and poor market conditions. Farm gate milk prices are now below the cost of production and I asked the Secretary of State to support me in pressing for more effective EU support.”

Ms O’Neill said the crisis cannot be solved at local level.

She added: “It needs concerted action. That is why we are working with the banks and representatives of the dairy and retail sectors.

“I have also raised the issue of prices and the need for proper EU support with Commissioner Phil Hogan. I plan to attend the meeting of the Council in Brussels on 7 September to press for a review of the current intervention price, which was last reviewed in 2008. Today, I asked the Secretary of State to support me with ensuring that this vital safety net for our farmers is set at a realistic level.

“Liz Truss acknowledged that we have a unique and extreme set of circumstances facing dairy farmers in the north. She said that she was committed to taking action and I will meet her again next week, along with Scottish and Welsh Ministers, to continue to press her to take that action.

“There was also recognition at the meeting that volatility of prices affected other sectors too.”

Minister O’Neill went on to say: “Clearly, a successful dairy industry cannot rely on safety net subsidies. It needs a buoyant market with fair returns. However, if we are to have a sustainable dairy industry, we also need to have reasonable safety nets in place to support the industry when global market shocks occur.”

The Minister was joined at the meeting by President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union Ian Marshall and Northern Ireland Director of Dairy UK, Dr Mike Johnston.

Minister O’Neill added that today’s meeting demonstrates the willingness of all parts of the sector to address the current challenges together.

She said: “It is my firm belief that we in the north can better tackle the challenges facing all parts of our farming industry, not just dairy, if we work together. That means producers, processors, banks and all politicians, not just here but in Westminster and in Europe as well, each playing their part. Today’s meeting represents only one step on the journey and I will continue work on behalf of farmers. My door is always open and I look to others to respond with the same attitude.”