The Ulster Farmers’ Union has said that while Northern Ireland will receive £5.1 million of the £26.2 million overall direct aid package allocated to the UK, the amount allocated per dairy farmer will have little or no impact when set against the losses being made on dairy farms across Northern Ireland.
“The vast majority of dairy farmers are suffering financial difficulties. Even though we successfully lobbied for an additional share of the funding because of the difficulties here, the amount coming to Northern Ireland will not aid financial recovery,” said UFU president Ian Marshall.
“Nor will it help the wider industry through what will be one of the toughest winters in living memory for farming families.”
Mr Marshall added that while it was encouraging the government at Westminster had recognised Northern Ireland’s unique problems because of low milk prices other sectors had been ignored.
“The wider farming industry remains disappointed that the difficulties they are experiencing have been largely ignored by both DEFRA and the European Union,” said Mr Marshall.
This reflects warnings from the UFU that the approach of both Brussels and London is divisive between different enterprises, because it seeks to create a pyramid of farmer hardship.
The UFU recognises there is no single solution to the problems facing the industry, but maintains that the Commission needs to deliver something more meaningful to help the industry get back on its feet. For dairy farmers, the UFU will continue to push for a review of intervention prices along with its EU colleagues.
“For the wider industry, the UFU will continue to work closely with the other UK farming unions and with supermarkets to look at ways of bringing greater fairness and transparency to the supply chain and to ensure farmers across all sectors receive a fairer share of the price consumers pay for food,” said Mr Marshall.
At a local level, Mr Marshall said the Farm Minister, Michelle O’Neill and her DARD officials needed to pay this additional money out quickly and also ensure that every effort is made to improve on the 93 per cent of the CAP’s basic scheme payments that were made in full last December.
“This has been a hard year for farmers which is going to get worse over the coming months. Against that background they cannot afford to have any delay to their direct CAP payments,” he said.
In a statement confirming the allocation, the minister explained the decision to allocate nearly 20% of the member state’s aid package to Northern Ireland comes after the unique and difficult circumstances facing the industry here was highlighted in London and Brussels.
Minister O’Neill said: “In my meetings with Commissioner Hogan and DEFRA Secretary Liz Truss, I have been strenuously pushing for immediate support for our hard-pressed farmers. I made a strong case for differentiated aid for the north given the drastic price reductions here compared with Britain and as a result I have secured a better deal for our farmers, in that they will share a total aid package worth £5.1 million, almost a fifth of the member state allocation.”
The minister went on to say: “Throughout my engagement with DEFRA and the Commission I insisted that they recognise that our dairy industry is facing a unique and extreme set of circumstances. I welcome the fact that they both have listened and accepted this. The north’s allocation is larger as a result. The price falls in the dairy sector are deeper and longer than we have seen in any other farming sector, with the milk price 34% lower in July this year than in 2014, and 39% below prices in 2013.”
She added: “My immediate focus is to ensure this money reaches our dairy farmers who are most in need without delay. I also want to ensure that there is no knock-on impact on issuing Basic Payments to all farmers here. I recognise the challenges being faced across the wider farming sector in the north and I am committed to making Direct Payments to as many farmers as possible in December 2015.”
Recognising the pressures on other sectors in the farming industry, Minister O’Neill concluded: “I’m aware that other sectors of our farming community are also facing difficult times and I will continue to work with all the farming sectors and stakeholders to support greater fairness, transparency and communication in the supply chain and to support a sustainable and profitable agri-food industry in the longer term.”