Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has written to Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for DEFRA, to highlight the difficulties facing our dairy industry.
The minister is also seek backing in discussions with the European Commission about appropriate EU support for the dairy sector.
It is one of a number of measures the minister is undertaking to tackle the issue in London, Brussels and on the island of Ireland.
The minister said: “I am very concerned about the current weakness in dairy prices and the pressures facing dairy farmers. Prices on dairy markets have been falling and there is little doubt that this is attributable to the Russian ban on imports combined with the increase in EU and global milk production.”
The minister continued: “Following the introduction of the Russian import ban, I wrote to the DEFRA Secretary of State expressing my concerns and pressing her to lobby for appropriate support for the dairy sector.
“Also, in early September I met with then European Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, when I highlighted the impact of the ban on our agri-food industry, especially the dairy sector. I asked the Commission to explore alternative markets for the products most affected by the ban.”
The minister explained she was seeking a meeting with European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan next week to discuss the matter.
She said: “My Permanent Secretary discussed the matter with Commissioner Hogan’s cabinet last week. I also plan to meet Commissioner Hogan next week when I will be pressing for further support for the industry. I believe it is now time to review the intervention system given the doubts that many have expressed about its effectiveness as an adequate safety net.”
The minister said her officials in DARD had been working with dairy exporters on finding alternative markets and a dairy international trade working group has been established with DAFM for discussing mechanisms for facilitating third country trade across the island of Ireland.
She added: “Our dairy industry makes a very important contribution to the local economy and employment in rural areas. I am therefore committed to doing all that I can to help it at this difficult time. I will work closely with the local dairy industry to help ensure that it is competitive and profitable. This will include work on research, education, training and technical support as well as the financial assistance proposed under the next Rural Development Programme.”
On the issue of cash flow, the minister said she would join with the Ulster Farmers’ Union to meet with the local banks to highlight the challenges faced by the local industry.
She added: “In view of the volatility in milk prices my department’s dairy advisers have been disseminating relevant information on managing cash flow. I have met with the Ulster Farmers’ Union to discuss their concerns and am arranging a joint meeting with the local banks to see what can be done to help with cash flow. I believe that the dairy sector is resilient and that by working together we will come through this difficult period.”