‘Ministers have a role to play’

UFU Deputy President Barclay Bell and Agriculture Committee Chairman William Irwin spoke to farmers protesting at Stormont  this week
UFU Deputy President Barclay Bell and Agriculture Committee Chairman William Irwin spoke to farmers protesting at Stormont this week

Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said he will continue to maintain the pressure on the Agriculture Commissioner and the European Commission for meaningful action to support the dairy sector and the agricultural industry as a whole.

Mr Nicholson also reiterated his call for the EU’s Agricultural Ministers to play their part.

Earlier this week the MEP visited the farm of Jonathan Matthews alongside his Ulster Unionist colleague Jo-Anne Dobson MLA to meet with dairy farmers from across Northern Ireland and heard first-hand the impact falling prices are having on farm businesses and families.

Mr Nicholson said: “The farmers who gave evidence to the ARD Committee and travelled to Stormont this week are to be congratulated for highlighting the nature and scale of the difficulties currently facing agriculture. Whilst the crisis in the dairy sector was the main focus of the committee farmers in many sectors – beef, lamb, dairy and vegetables are experiencing prices below the cost of production which is unsustainable.

“In terms of dairy Commissioner Hogan must use the tools at his disposal and I will continue to maintain the pressure on him and the Commission to provide meaningful support for the sector.

“It is clear that the Commission’s policy of waiting to see things improve has failed, the market and situation on the ground is getting worse not better. As my dairy report recommends the intervention price needs to be reviewed to put a floor in the market – I also repeat my call to keep the 2014/2015 superlevy fine of some €750 million in the industry, it should not be diverted to other areas of the Commission.”

He continued: “The EU’s Agriculture Ministers must also play their part. Recently we have seen some ministers secure an extraordinary meeting of the Agriculture Council to discuss the difficulties being faced by producers across the EU. We have also seen the French government recently announce a €600m package of support to help their farmers.

“This meeting is due to take place on 7 September and it is vital that Defra and DARD Ministers make the most of this to clearly spell out the pain being felt by farmers locally and work to secure meaningful action.

“Ministers must step up to the plate and fight for all sectors given the pain currently being felt by producers.

“In particular Defra Ministers who represent the UK as a whole at the EU negotiating table need a change in mind-set. They must be more active in defending and supporting the interests of the UK’s agricultural industry in Europe.”