Committee agrees its strategy

Hundreds of angry farmers gathered to protest about poor farm gate prices at Stormont this week
Hundreds of angry farmers gathered to protest about poor farm gate prices at Stormont this week

Stormont Agriculture Committee chairman William Irwin has told Farming Life that Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has written to the EU Agriculture Commissioner, seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the crisis now impacting on Northern Ireland’s milk industry.

“Hopefully, this meeting will take place before the end of August,” he said. “It has been agreed that members of the committee will join the minister, as will representatives of the milk processing sector and the farming organisations. And there is only one item on the agenda: securing a realistic increase in dairy intervention prices.”

Irwin believes that Northern Ireland will not be alone in calling for an increase in dairy support levels.

“It is now evident that the Netherlands and a number of other EU member states will be approaching the Commissioner on a similar basis,” he added

The agriculture committee has agreed a range of actions to help improve the finances of farming in Northern Ireland.

“We are writing to all of the political parties in Northern Ireland with Westminster representation, asking them to pressurise DEFRA minister Liz Truss into requesting an increase in dairy intervention prices. It is critically important that she is seen to be acting on behalf of all UK dairy farmers,” said Irwin.

“It is also our intention to write officially to the Executive seeking the introduction of support measures for farmers, similar to those agreed by the French government last week.”

Irwin confirmed that all the main supermarkets operating in Northern Ireland will be invited to give evidence in front of his committee over the coming weeks.

“Long term, these organisations have a key role to play in determining the sustainability of local farmers,” he said. “It is also our intention to invite Christine Tacon, the supermarket ombudsman, to Stormont. Her insights into the operation of the food retail sector should prove invaluable.”

Irwin stressed that the crisis unfolding within the farming industry is not solely focussed on the dairy sector.

“Committee members recognise that farmers across the board are under financial pressure at the present time: lamb producers, arable farmers and vegetable growers are all feeling the pinch of extremely low farmgate returns. And we will act accordingly,” he said.”