‘Minister must work with her UK counterparts’ – MLA

UUP's Joanne Dobson and MP Tom Elliott meet with dairy farmers
UUP's Joanne Dobson and MP Tom Elliott meet with dairy farmers

Ulster Unionist politicians Tom Elliott MP and Jo-Anne Dobson MLA have called on the Minister of Agriculture Michelle O’Neill to work alongside her counterparts across all UK regions.

The call came following a meeting between the politicians and dairy farmers which took place at Mr Elliott’s Dungannon constituency office on Thursday evening.

Commenting Mrs Dobson, the party’s agriculture spokesperson, said: “Farmers, from all sectors, are sending a loud and clear message to their minister – they need help before it’s too late.

“If we are to see a viable resolution to the current crisis in farming Michelle O’Neill must begin to work with Minister Carl Sargeant AM in the Welsh government and Minister Richard Lochhead MSP in the Scottish government as well as Liz Truss, Secretary of State for EFRA.

“The outcome of any negotiations must be fair and sustainable prices for our farmers and it should go without saying that the minister must fight the corner for Northern Ireland farmer’s.”

Mr Elliott, the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said: “It’s absolutely vital that we see a willingness at all levels of government, the Stormont Executive, UK government and the EU, to help farming families across Northern Ireland.

“Farmers and their families simply cannot go on when prices are dramatically falling and costs are rising. Whatever the sector farmers across Northern Ireland are facing an uncertain future, however it is clear that it is our dairy industry which is facing the steepest challenges.

“Ministers must work collectively to halt plummeting milk prices and that needs to start with effective communication between them and their departments.

“The EU and our own government must urgently explore the possibility of having an increased intervention base milk price or export refunds in order to protect the industry.

“The need for a combined effort from Brussels, the UK government and our own Executive is crucial to take on the dairy crisis before it’s too late.”

Concluding Mrs Dobson said: “With the milk price continuing to fall dairy farmers are daily looking towards an increasingly uncertain future within the industry. However farmers across all sectors, whether it’s beef, sheep, potato or pig, continue to face unsustainable below production cost farm-gate prices.

“Until we see those in positions of responsibility start working collectively together for the good of our farmers, farming families will continue to struggle and we risk losing the fabric of rural life in Northern Ireland.

“It started on Jonny Matthew’s farm last Monday which led to Edwin Poots and myself recalling the Stormont committee. The minister must listen to the loud voice of farmers and heed their warning – ignoring their plea for help is simply not an option.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week Northern Ireland farm organisations including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), Severally Disadvantaged Area (SDA) Support Group, Farmers for Action and National Beef Association met to assess the current farm gate price crisis across the staples ahead of their proposed public crisis meeting, confirmed for September.

A spokesperson said: “We have noted that the Luxemburg presidency has called an extraordinary agriculture committee meeting for 7th September in Brussels following growing concern about the economic crisis in the dairy and livestock sectors and that our minister and industry representatives plan to meet Commissioner Hogan at this time.

“In light of this we will be announcing a date following this for a public meeting discussing all aspects of our industry in the present financial climate.

“We will be extending an invitation to representatives of all political parties and non-affiliated public representatives to participate as it is essential that there is cohesion in the support for all commodities in the primary production sector, the first link in the food chain and the cornerstone of the agri-food sector.”