Dairy farmers to protest outside Belfast’s EU Commission office

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A group of dairy farmers will today hold a protest outside the EU Commission Office in Belfast to highlight what they describe as the ‘turmoil’ facing the dairy sector.

Members of Fair Price Farming NI will also hand over a letter for EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, urging him to strike a realistic milk intervention price and ring fence the 860 million Euro super levy within the dairy sector to assist farmers with volatility and risk.

The protest takes place ahead of a planned demonstration outside Stormont tomorrow, co-ordinated by the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and a crunch meeting in Brussels on Monday which is expected to draw thousands of farmers from across the EU.

In the letter to Mr Hogan the dairy farmers say the current turmoil in the sector is ‘cutting to the core of the agri-food industry, so vital to the economic, socio-economic and political stability of Northern Ireland’.

The letter continues: “The extreme volatility in the dairy sector is having a critical impact on the agricultural industry. It is also having a worrying effect on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) who are particularly exposed because of their dependence on the agricultural industry. It is having a very negative psychological impact, creating a reluctance by farming families, in particular young farmers, to continue in the agriculture business.

“Dairy farming is not just a job. It is a way of life, part of the identity of Northern Ireland. Its potential collapse is destroying not just rural wellbeing but the social and economic wellbeing of Northern Ireland.

“The present crisis has been in the making for some time with the abolition of milk quotas and global influences. The EU needs to face up to the consequences of recent geopolitical decisions, in particular the decision to place sanctions on Russia. This led to their retaliation and, in particular, a ban on food imports from EU. Their ban on cheese imports, for example, had an adverse impact on commodity markets. All regions that are dependent on exports, not just those that export directly or indirectly to Russia, are particularly exposed to volatile commodity markets. Why should European farmers carry the can for such political decisions?” the letter continues.

“Northern Ireland is a special case, with its extreme exposure to market forces. It exports 85% of the milk produced. It is particularly exposed to sterling/euro currency fluctuations. Some other European countries may, or will be, in a similar dilemma.

“‘Let market forces prevail’ is a policy being pursued in Europe. The US realisation that this policy failed to counter extreme volatility saw the introduction of a Margin Protection Programme. Evidence from the US now shows its effectiveness in reducing volatility. The mechanism of intervention at a realistic level in Europe would have a similar impact. The resistance to revisit the intervention price must be addressed immediately. A realistic intervention price would be a catalyst for recovery and more importantly strengthen trader sentiment, thus ensuring market recovery.

“We ask you, as Commissioner, to strike a realistic intervention price. It is crucial that you listen to European farmers speaking with one voice and converging on this issue without dissent, demanding collectively that you act positively to support the farmers of Europe. With the introduction of intervention measures by the Commission, such as happened in 2009, 800 million euro was returned to the Commission coffers after it was sold back in to a rising market .We need creative leadership, otherwise the crisis will deepen.

“We ask you, as Commissioner, to ring-fence the 860million euro super-levy within the dairy sector to assist farmers with volatility and risk.

“The trust of the producer in the European Commission and in those politicians elected to ensure that the lifeblood of Europe’s agricultural industry, the dairy sector, is protected and supported is crucial. We ask you to consider carefully the objectives of the common agricultural policy, under The Lisbon Treaty, Article 39.

We ask you, our European Agricultural Commissioner, to provide a genuine safety net to address volatility,” the letter concludes.