DUP MEP Diane Dodds has given a cautious welcome to the €500m support package announced by European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels earlier this week.
Stressing the need for the Commission to provide greater detail on the measures in order to allow regions such as Northern Ireland to harness potential benefits for local farmers, Mrs Dodds said: “The range of measures announced by Commissioner Hogan this week represent a positive step toward recognising the difficulties facing farm businesses at this time. This is a more targeted scheme than the previous one.
“However it is still only a short term, stop gap measure in a situation where markets, both European and global, still have an over supply of milk. The systemic problems remain and will need to be tackled if there is to be an end to this cyclical pressure on farm gate prices.
“I am particularly pleased that the package provides for advances of up to 70% of direct payments, which will allow my party colleague, the Agriculture Minister, to issue much-needed financial support to farmers across Northern Ireland from 16 October. Indeed this measure is likely to be the most beneficial immediately to our local farm businesses.
“In overall terms, the United Kingdom will receive €30 million from this pot. I know that our minister will work tirelessly and cooperatively with her counterparts in DEFRA and the devolved regions to ensure that Northern Ireland receives an allocation that is not only fair but which is adapted to meet the specific challenges facing the local agriculture sector”
However Mrs Dodds also indicated that the central theme of the package - voluntary milk volume reduction - can only be successful if those member states who are currently gushing milk onto the market also exercise the restraint and leadership necessary to make it work.
“Currently there are a number of member states who have continued to increase their milk production thus adding to the overall depression in prices. If this package is to be in any way meaningful then there must be restraint and leadership from these countries.
“There is also an onus on the European Commission to clarify quickly any areas of the package where a current lack of detail prevents ministers from fully assessing how the proposals might best support those on the ground. The Commission must also ensure that individual measures, including the proposed €350m in conditional adjustment aid, are not accompanied by complex requirements that may actually delay support to those who need it most.
“Ultimately, now that this commitment has been secured, the EU must set out a clear plan for delivery that brings real and tangible results for farmers.”