Securing new export markets is the only way that Northern Ireland’s agri food sector can hope to overcome the challenge of volatility, according to farm minister Michelle O’Neill.
“And we are making significant progress in this regard,” she said.
“It is almost certain that China will open its door to fresh pork imports from the north over the coming weeks.
“We are also at an advanced stage in opening up markets in the US, Australia and the Philippines for a range of beef and pork products.
“The potential of these new export outlets to help to deliver sustainable returns for local farmers is immense.”
O’Neill admitted that it may take time to fully realise the full potential of these new market opportunities.
“This is particularly the case, where China is concerned. It is all about developing good working relationships with that country’s political and economic leaders,” she further explained.
The minister has just returned from her third visit to China. But she also feels strongly that the EU has a role to play in bolstering producer returns at the present time, given the ongoing impact of Russia’s ban on EU food imports.
“Decisions taken in Brussels created this problem, so the EU Commission must act to ensure that Europe’s farmers do not suffer as a result,” she said.
“And this is particularly the case where dairy is concerned.”
O’Neill believes that European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan is living in an ‘ivory tower’ by not recognising the economic pressures now impacting on milk producers.
“We need to see realistic intervention and or aids to private storage support introduced immediately,” she said.
O’Neill indicated that she would be making urgent representations to Brussels on these matters, adding that the Commissioner must act immediately to prevent a collapse of the dairy farming sector in Northern Ireland.
Last week’s Fonterra auction in New Zealand brought international milk prices back to 2009 levels, which O’Neill regards as the ‘disaster’ benchmark for the milk industries of Europe.
One option which O’Neill will be following up with Commissioner Hogan is that of having the farm-based costings, upon which all current intervention and aids to private storage measures are based, overhauled. Brussels has previously indicated that the current costings are ten years out of date.