Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill believes that the European Commission is softening its stance with regard to the introduction of meaningful support measures for the dairy sector.
“Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has indicated, over recent days, that he will shortly announce a package of support measures for the milk industry over the coming days,” she said.
“I will be putting him over these points at a meeting which will take place in Brussels next Tuesday. But he will also be told that the only solution that can make a positive difference for the dairy sector is the immediate introduction of enhanced intervention support arrangements.”
The deputation accompanying the minister to Brussels will comprise Stormont Agriculture Committee chairman Willie Irwin, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Ian Marshall, Farmers for Action co-ordinator William Taylor, Northern Ireland’s three MEPs and Glanbia UK CEO Paul Vernon
O’Neill spoke at this week’s dairy summit, hosted by the UFU.
She said that her department will do everything possible to ease cash flow problems on farms.
“And this includes a commitment that Basic Payments are in farmers’ bank accounts as early as possible in December. Record payment distribution rates were achieved during this period last year. And I want to ensure that the same level of performance is, at least, repeated by my staff in 2015.”
The minister brushed off suggestions that she may not be in a job next week, given ongoing developments at Stormont.
“I am totally focussed on the job in hand. And this means doing everything possible to represent the interest of farmers across the board.”
Speaking at the summit Ian Marshall, said there was no magic bullet to fix the crisis, triggered by a drop of 30 per cent in milk prices over the past twelve months.
“We welcome the decision by some retailers to increase the price of milk. But what we really need is an improvement in world dairy prices. This will not be easily achieved until production falls in key milk producing countries”
He added that the European Commission needed to put a ‘floor’ into a weak European market, by increasing the intervention price at which it supports the market by buying in surplus product.