Farmer activists are asking voters to back political parties in the forthcoming Assembly elections which will support a new law to guarantee a minimum price for their produce.
Farmers For Action (FFA) NI and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers’ Association (NIAPA) yesterday released a report they commissioned by economist Paul Gosling which showed that farming incomes here have collapsed.
The report said: “Northern Ireland’s farmers are in financial crisis. Farmgate prices have collapsed. The consequence is economic and social misery for farming families and for much of Northern Ireland’s rural society.”
It said that in 2014 farming incomes in Northern Ireland fell by 17 per cent and that some 14 per cent of NI farms reported a loss in 2013/14.
The report advocated “legal intervention to protect farmgate prices” - inspired by Roosevelt’s New Deal.
FFA spokesman William Taylor said: “The aim of our new legislation would be to return to farmers in Northern Ireland a minimum of the cost of production plus an inflation-linked margin across all the staples - milk, vegetables, cereals, beef, lamb, pork and chicken.
“The electorate have a responsibility to set their tribal voting to one side and instead vote for the party that will pledge to do this vital deed.”
But Ulster Farmers Union president Ian Marshall disagreed. “We have been lobbying here, in London and in Brussels about measures to tackle this problem,” he said.
“We have urged the DARD minister, Michelle O’Neill, to use the supply chain forum she established to bring a new focus to the crisis in the dairy sector. The problems there and elsewhere in farming are complex and solutions will be around ways to ease the impact of volatile global markets.
“However, we do not believe minimum price local legislation is practical, either politically or as a business plan.”
He said 80 per cent of what is produced here is destined for external markets.
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said the minister and the department are considering the report.
“However, it is important to state that minister has worked diligently and tirelessly to support farmers across the north,” he added.
For example, around 96 per cent of farm businesses received their basic payments in December; through persistent lobbying both DEFRA and the commission finally recognised the unique problems faced by Northern Ireland farmers and they received a higher rate of emergency payment.
The minister also encouraged banks to be as flexible as possible and requested that the Agri Food Strategy Board set up the Supply Chain Forum, to drive more effective communication between farmers and the rest of the chain.