Hundreds of farmers, processors and industry representatives gathered at Stormont today to highlight the impact of the current farming crisis ahead of an emergency meeting of the Agriculture Council in Brussels.
Addressing the meeting, Minister O’Neill said that working together was the most effective way to make our voices heard but that action from Europe was vital to tackle the ongoing crisis.
She said: “The fact that farmers, processors, feed merchants, the Agri-Food Strategy Board and others are represented here shows the depth of concern right along the supply chain. This mobilisation sends a powerful message to the European Commission, and indeed the British government, that we are not prepared to stand by and watch our most important industry collapse.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union organised the demonstration to highlight the impact the crisis is having on the entire agri-food economy, and not just the farmers. The minister recognised the importance of this point.
She said: “I have always believed the agri-food industry is the bedrock of our economy and a key force in shaping our natural environment, culture and society. We share a common concern about the fall in prices and how that translates into prices below the cost of production, the effect on business profitability and the direct impact that this is having on farmers and their families. I am doing everything I can at a political and practical level to support the industry through the current crisis.”
The global dairy crisis has been caused by a range of international factors including a Russian ban on imports, reduced demand from important markets such as China, adverse exchange rate movements and increased milk production in several countries.
The Minister said: “We are all agreed that this crisis cannot be solved at a local level. It needs concerted action with everyone working together to a common aim, playing their part and making a contribution.”
Minister O’Neill told those gathered of how she took Northern Ireland’s case to London and Brussels through her recent meetings with DEFRA Secretary of State Liz Truss and EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Phil Hogan and will travel to Brussels to attend the special Agriculture Council meeting on Monday.
She told the gathering that ahead of that meeting, she will continue to argue the case for farmers in Northern Ireland with counterparts in DEFRA, Scotland and Wales.
The Minister concluded: “The key point is that we need effective action from Europe now to ensure we have a sustainable industry for the future. Europe cannot ignore the plight of farmers here. I will not let up in pressing the Commission hard for swift and effective support for our most important industry.”
“The fact that farmers, processors, feed merchants, the Agri-Food Strategy Board and others are represented here shows the depth of concern right along the supply chain.”Michelle O’Neill, DARD Minister
UFU president Ian Marshall addressed the crowd saying that farming families were running out of ‘cash and patience’ adding that without farmers there would be no food.
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said a united voice is needed to support the North’s agri-food industry.
Speaking after attending the protest Ms Anderson said: “The agri-food industry in the North is highly regarded around the world with our farmers and growers producing first-class goods. It is the backbone of our economy and it must be supported.
“I have met many people involved in the sector and have raised their concerns with senior officials at the European Union.
“Farmers involved in this sector want to see a united voice coming from political parties supporting them and lobbying on their behalf at the European Commission.”