Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson met with the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan this week to discuss the difficulties currently being experienced by Northern Ireland’s farmers and the options available to the EU to assist the agricultural industry.
Commenting after the meeting, Mr Nicholson said: “This week’s meeting with Commissioner Hogan lasted over an hour and was extremely useful. In relation to the crisis in the dairy sector an increase in intervention prices is needed to put a floor in the market. This action would send a clear signal to the market that the Commission is willing to support the industry.
“Current levels are unrealistic and ineffective, especially for local farmers given the weakness of the euro – the thresholds must therefore be raised to reflect the current costs and realities of production.
“The Commissioner did, however, confirm to me that reviewing intervention levels will take time due to the nature of the European decision making process. Even in the best case scenario, with unanimous backing by member states in Council and MEPs in Parliament, the timeline is likely to be 12 months.
“Given the situation on the ground there is without doubt an urgent need for the Commission to commence this process, beginning the review will in itself do a lot to improve confidence.
“I also challenged the Commissioner again on the need to beef up the Milk Market Observatory (MMO), another recommendation contained within my recent dairy report – the industry must have accurate and up-to-date information readily available to aid decision making.”
Mr Nicholson continued: “We discussed the pressure being felt by beef, lamb, pig and cereal farmers at this time due to a range of factors including the weak euro – the new Rural Development Programme was also on the agenda.
“During the meeting Commissioner Hogan made it clear that both he and the Commission are working round the clock to find and examine other ways to help the agricultural industry in both the short and long term – farmers do however need to see this work backed up with meaningful action being taken at the EU level.
“It is clear that both National and regional governments also have roles to play in supporting the industry. That is why the extraordinary meeting of the EU’s Agriculture Ministers which is scheduled for 7 September is so important.”
He concluded: “This week’s meeting with Commissioner Hogan was therefore a welcome opportunity to directly brief him on the scale and nature of the difficulties facing Northern Ireland’s farmers before the European Parliament reconvenes after summer recess and ahead of the crucial meeting of ministers next month.”