A need for urgent action to tackle the crisis in the farming industry was agreed at a farming summit in London earlier today.
The meeting involved UK and devolved agricultural ministers and representatives of the UK farming unions.
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill is now urging the European Union to act swiftly to support farmers in Northern Ireland.
Speaking from London after her second meeting inside a week with Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister O’Neill gave a measured welcome to the discussions.
She said: “Today’s meeting was broadly constructive and covered a wide range of issues on which agreement for action could be built including fairness in the supply chain and procurement. However these are steps for the longer term. I, and the industry representatives from the north, were adamant with Liz Truss that action is needed now. That the intervention price must be raised and that pursuing opportunities in opening new markets tomorrow will not address the crisis our farmers are facing today.”
Today’s meeting - which also involved farming unions and Ministers from Wales and Scotland - was called to address a number of issues facing the farming industry, especially the dairy sector.
Minister O’Neill said: “It is clear that European support for our farmers is vital right now. The dairy sector in the north, which is heavily reliant on exports, has been hit hard by adverse exchange rates and poor market conditions. Farm gate milk prices are now below the cost of production. Assistance is required. Despite appearances, I believe that the picture is not as acute in Britain.
“While it is good that my counterparts in Wales and Scotland are committed to influencing Liz Truss to act speedily, I am clear that raising the intervention price threshold is the key lever to effect positive change in the short term.”
The Minister intends to ask the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to raise the intervention threshold price when she meets him in a few weeks. She will also attend the specially-convened Agriculture Council in Brussels on September 7.
She said: “We accept that a successful dairy industry needs a buoyant market with fair returns and cannot rely on intervention. However, if we are to have a sustainable dairy industry, we also need to have reasonable safety nets when global market shocks occur. I will continue to lobby for those protections.
“I will press firmly for a review of the current intervention price when I meet Commissioner Hogan. The threshold price was last reviewed six years ago, and much has changed since then. A new and higher price would help stabilise prices by putting a floor in the market.”
The Minister concluded: “I will make these points to the Commissioner when we meet. I will highlight the very real concerns of our farmers and I will ask him to take action to address them. I have not and will not allow Europe to ignore the plight of our farmers.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall said there was agreement from both the agriculture ministers and the presidents of the four UK farming unions that the situation facing farmers needs urgent collective action and that the issue of sustainability needs addressed.
He added: “Currently the supply chain is not working and a long term solution to these problems is needed. There was an agreement from all involved today, to work together on a list of demands and actions to put to retailers to seek commitment from them on their sourcing, labelling and promotion of local produce.”
At the meeting Mr Marshall again underlined the need for government to press the European Commission to review the intervention price for dairy products. “It was also agreed to collectively put forward a list of demands, ahead of the emergency EU farming summit on 7 September, to the European Commission that could help farmers deal with the extreme volatility facing all enterprises,” he said. Dr Judith Bryans, Chief Executive of Dairy UK, described the meeting as ‘constructive’.
She added: “The current global crisis is well beyond the control of dairy farmers and processors and all ministers are aware that the whole industry is working in extremely difficult conditions.
“After an open exchange of views, it was agreed that transparency in origin labelling and improved branding were important for consumers to be able to choose British products as easily as possible. We were pleased to see that the Government is progressing the agenda on public procurement and is keen to support the industry on exports. Dairy UK also renewed its call for the EU Commission to raise the intervention price as we believe this is an urgently needed measure to ease the pressure on the sector.
“In the long term, we need a collaborative approach throughout the supply chain to develop a toolbox to handle the impact of volatility which, as we know, is now an inherent part of the milk market.”