O’Neill set for second meeting with DEFRA Minister on farming crisis

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill says she will again press the British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Liz Truss, for support of Northern Ireland farmers at a specially-convened meeting in London.

Minister O’Neill, who met with Liz Truss last week, will join her counterparts from Scotland and Wales as well as the farming unions for another meeting tomorrow (Monday). She intends to urge the Secretary of State to lobby for more effective EU support for the dairy sector.

Speaking today, the Minister said: “I met Liz Truss last week to highlight the unique difficulties facing our farmers. We depend on exports and these have been impacted severely by collapsing international markets and the strength of sterling. We also discussed the impact of market volatility on all sectors of the farming industry.

“I was encouraged by her understanding of our extreme set of circumstances and by her willingness to take action. However, I am determined to maintain momentum and that is why I will use this next meeting to press her on that action and for help in persuading the EU to increase the intervention threshold price. I have also engaged with my counterparts in the south, Scotland and Wales in raising the issue.”

Referring to the fact that Ulster Farmers’ Union President, Ian Marshall and NI Director of Dairy UK, Mike Johnston joined her at Tuesday’s meeting in London, the Minister re-emphasised the need for a joined up approach to this crisis.

She added: “Working together is the most effective way to take on the challenges facing all parts of our farming industry, not just dairy. I want to see producers, processors, banks and all politicians - in Ireland, Britain and Europe - each playing their part and I am encouraged that many will be represented around the table tomorrow.”

The Minister indicated that she would take every opportunity to highlight this issue at a European level. She said: “I will go to the Agriculture Council in Brussels next month to press for a review of the current intervention price, which was last reviewed in 2008. And I look to the Secretary of State to support me with ensuring that this vital safety net for our farmers is set at a realistic level.

“In the spring, I met EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to raise the concerns of our farmers and have sought a second meeting in order to lobby again for movement on the intervention threshold price. I have not and will not allow the EU to ignore the plight of our farmers.

She concluded: “I understand that a successful dairy industry cannot rely on intervention. It needs a buoyant market with fair returns. However, if we are to have a sustainable dairy industry, we also need to have reasonable safety nets in place to support the industry when global market shocks occur. I will put my energies into lobbying for those protections.”