This week has seen the French government agree a €1 billon support package for its livestock sectors. This development follows a fortnight of farm protests in France, which included the blocking of roads and the picketing of supermarkets.
The support scheme will entail the French government engaging with banks to restructure all medium and long-term debts for farmers in difficulty, particularly young people and recent investors, with the support of credit mediation. A series of tax incentives, including the relaxation of the current VAT regulations, is also included.
Commenting on the French support measures UFU deputy president, Barclay Bell, said it was an ambitious programme – and one that underlined the scale of the crisis facing farmers in every EU member state.
He said that given the weakness of the euro against sterling the problems facing farmers here were even worse than those being experienced in France.
“We all look with envy towards the aid the French government gives its farmers – but this is rarely replicated in other member states,” he said.
Mr Bell said the UFU would be pressing the farm minister, Michelle O’Neill to confirm that she recognised the scale of the crisis facing the industry, and the threat this poses to the biggest sector of the local economy.
“It is difficult to envisage the Executive here doing the same as the French government – but there is a case for radical thinking and for the minister to find ways to help farmers through what is going to be a very difficult autumn and winter,” said Mr Bell.
He added that a big focus of the French plan was on cash flow, and said the UFU was already engaged with all the local banks to develop and implement measures that will ease the cash flow burden farmers face across all enterprises.
“I would love to say we will be demanding a French style programme here – but realistically we have to press for solutions that are achievable in Northern Ireland. That is something we have been doing and will be doing more of as the pressures on family businesses intensify in the face of poor prices, supermarket pressure and a weak euro,” said the UFU deputy president.