Cereal growers must be eligible for aid package

All farmers must benefit from the EU Exceptional Adjustment Aid scheme – including cereal growers.

Acres of news print have been dedicated to the trials and tribulations experienced by dairy farmers over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, it’s oft been overlooked that arable farmers here in Northern Ireland have been in the direct firing line of the slump in world grain prices, caused by the record harvests recorded around the world over the past four years.

And not to put too fine a point on it: surely it is inherently unfair for dairy, beef, pig and other livestock farmers to stuff cheap cereals down the throats of their animals this winter without having any thought at all for their tillage colleagues.

So much for the theory: the challenge that now presents itself is that of getting the Exceptional Adjustment Aid scheme to work for the arable sector. Under its current terms of reference, support can only be made available to livestock farmers only.

This is a fundamental flaw within the scheme and is an issue which farm minister Michelle McIlveen must address as a matter of priority.

Moreover, all relevant stakeholders - including Fair Price Farming Northern Ireland – should support a campaign to get an equitable deal for cereal growers. ‘United we stand: divided we fall’ is the adage that most immediately comes to mind in this context.

When all is said and done livestock farmers in Northern Ireland need a viable grain sector on their back doorsteps. And, of course, this principle also works in reverse.

My understanding is that the implementation of the exceptional aid scheme will have no impact at all on commodity prices. So there is absolutely no reason why all sectors cannot push to get a fair deal for cereal growers!

Meanwhile, Minister McIlveen should also be pushing London to secure a national top up commitment, which is fully allowed for under the terms of the exceptional aid package.

The Irish Farmers Association is already pressurising McIlveen’s Dublin counterpart Michael Creed on this matter.

But I think we all know what the outcome of that conversation will be!