Tales From The Fields: Interim cash already gone

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Although Ulster farmers were to benefit by £3.75 million from the £54 boost in government guaranteed prices which had been announced for the United Kingdom in October 1970, there could be no disputing the “first aid” nature of the award.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mr James Prior, conceded that there had been “large and unprecedented” increases in production costs since the March Review with the present measures calculated only to help offset these rises.

UFU general secretary Mr W H Gilliland put his finger on the matter when he pointed out this week in 1970 that farming would not become rich as a result as the award had already been eaten up in rising costs.

In fact an increase of £2 10s per ton in feeding costs - approximately 1.5 million tons were used in the province yearly - would gobble up the “windfall” overnight without reference to the other sectors where inflation was equally rampant.

However, as UFU president Mr W Hamill had said that it would be churlish not to acknowledge what had been done particularly in view to Mr Prior’s assurance that the award would not prejudice the 1971 Review determinations.

The lion’s share of the award was to go to beef producers who were getting a rise of 10s cwt giving a total added incentive of £1.9 million.

Milk producers - so badly disappointed in March - were to receive an additional £1 million, while pig producers were to benefit by about £450,000 and cereal growers by around £200,000.

But it was another black verdict for the poultry industry and it was the refusal to allow anything towards eggs in poultry meal which undoubtedly expected to bring about the biggest storm.

There was a general welcome for the award at the UFU council meeting when a resolution of thanks was passed by acclamation by the union negotiating team.

At a press conference aftewards general secretary Mr W H Gilliland said that the government’s commitment to expansion - mainly through a change in import policy - was regarded as the most heartening feature.

While there had also been the assurance that the present awards would not prejudice the 1971 Review negotiations there would be “absolutely no relaxation” of the union pressure “until agriculture was placed on a proper footing”.

At the council meeting the main criticism had been levelled at the timing of the increases in the fatstock guarantee.

“We appreciate this point,” said Mr Gilliland, “but unfortunately whatever the timing it is inevitable that somebody will be unlucky.”

Mr Hamill, president, reiterated his view that increased returns would not meet the overall increases in costs to the industry in Northern Ireland.

He said that the current exercise could be regarded as a holding operation - an interim measure to avert a crisis before the next Review and until the government had had an opportunity to consider the speed and extent to which it may, by import regulations, increase the share of the producers’ returns which was obtained from the market.

However, the anticipated early statement by Mr Prior would clarify his policy and intentions.

Mr Hamill said that the unions had pressed the government to the uttermost to do something to assist egg producers “who are among the worst hit by rising prices of meal”.

He added: “We could make no impression on the government philosophy of a free market for eggs. I sincerely hope the market will give an acceptable price to egg producers because there seems to be no other answer to their problems.”