We must work together to ease difficulties

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All parts of the dairy sector and the banks must work together to ease the current difficulties facing our farmers.

That was my key message to representatives from across the sector when I met with them in Belfast this week. I invited dairy producer and processor representatives along with the banks to the meeting to discuss their current assessment of the difficulties facing the sector as well as their efforts to address them. I was also keen to emphasise that support for dairy farmers in difficulty must be prioritised at this time.

This is a global crisis caused by a range of international market and exchange rate factors. It cannot be solved at a local level alone, but I have been doing all I can to support our farmers, and I will continue to do so. While I understand farmers’ frustration at the current situation and believe that everyone has the right to peaceful protest within the law, I am convinced that we can better tackle these challenges if we work together. That means producers, processors, banks and all politicians, not just here but in Westminster and in Europe as well, each playing their part. That is why I invited dairy sector representatives and the banks to meet me. I have been encouraged by their determination and commitment to work through this severe downturn.

I told the meeting – which was attended by representatives from the UFU, NIAPA, the main banks and dairy processors – I expected every effort to be made to address concerns of those farmers affected by the fall in prices.

I will continue to meet with farmers and to listen. My door is always open and I have asked that others respond with the same attitude. We will engage with retailers. I am adopting a two-pronged approach, by helping farmers at an individual level and by lobbying on behalf of the sector as a whole.

Farmers need practical support at this time and I am encouraging our local banks to be as flexible and understanding as possible. It was important that they participated in this meeting as it is essential that lenders are part of this important discussion.

I appreciate that dairy processors are also finding the difficult trading conditions very challenging and have tried to cushion their farmer suppliers from falling prices. I would encourage all elements of the dairy supply chain to continue to work together to ensure that we have a sustainable and profitable dairy industry.

CAFRE dairy advisors are on the ground and will continue to support individual farmers by providing valuable support on improving technical efficiency and business performance. I would urge farmers experiencing financial difficulties to speak to their bank and seek support from CAFRE or Rural Support staff.

Action at a European level on raising intervention price thresholds is required and I am determined to raise the issue in Brussels and in London.

I have been lobbying Britain and Europe on raising intervention price thresholds and I have persistently raised the need for effective, timely EU support with both the British Secretary of State Liz Truss and European Commissioner Phil Hogan. I am disappointed with their response but I will not let it drop. I have been calling on other Ministers in the other devolved administrations to work with me to apply pressure for effective EU support. I am also planning to attend the special Agriculture Council meeting in September. Our concerns must be heard and addressed. I intend to meet with the sector again before the end of the month to ensure that this joined-up approach is maintained.