Hundreds of farmers from across Northern Ireland – mostly milk producers – protested at Stormont earlier this week, prior to the emergency meeting of the Assembly’s agriculture committee.
The group was addressed by farm minister Michelle O’Neill, agriculture committee chairman William Irwin and Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Barclay Bell.
All the farmers present had stories to tell about the amount of money they are losing at the present time. Omagh milk producer Derek Walker told Farming Life that he had lost £200,000 over the past two months.
“We are milking 200 cows. And what’s making matters worse is the fact that we are locked up with TB at the present time.”
Walker took Barclay Bell to task on what the Omagh man regarded as the lack of activity on the part of the union to help sort out the financial crisis now impacting on local dairy farmers. The union deputy president responded by confirming that the UFU had been working tirelessly on these matters for the past 12 months.
“We did not instigate the recent currency shifts, which have led to the significant strengthening of Sterling against the Euro. Nor are we responsible for the introduction of the EU food import ban by Russia. And these are issues that go to the very core of the crisis now facing most sectors of agriculture in Northern Ireland,” he said
Bert Wilson, another Tyrone man, also took part in the demonstration.
“I am here in support of my son and grandson,” he said.
“This is the worst crisis that has hit the dairy industry in my lifetime. We have 200 cows at home and we are losing thousands of pounds every week. The way things are going, there is not a future in farming for my son, never mind the generation coming after him. And this cannot be allowed to happen.”
Co Down milk producer Willie Cromie was another of the protesting farmers at Stormont. He said that the UFU plays a key role, working on behalf of farmers across Northern Ireland.
“As a past chairman of the union’s dairy committee, I am fully aware of the work put in by the UFU at all levels. The problem is that most farmers never see or hear about this.”
Commenting on the specific crisis facing the dairy sector at the present time, Cromie said that Michelle O’Neill should put the entire Going For Growth strategy to one side.
“It envisages a 50% increase in milk output and the creation of 15,000 new jobs. But who is going to pay the millions of pounds required to pay these workers’ salaries? No doubt that bill would land at the feet of milk producers. Farms are already stretched to breaking point: they just cannot afford to take on an extra layer of cost.”