SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has called for key steps to be taken to protect dairy farmers before the industry reaches crisis.
Following the launch of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Dairy Report, Ms Ritchie – the only Northern Ireland MP on the committee - outlined urgent key measures that must be taken to protect farmers who are facing ‘a dairy crisis’ with the volatility in the market set to continue.
She said: “Across the dairy industry, farmers are suffering from this sudden shock to the market as prices fall. This report examines key measures which need to be taken to support the dairy industry, which is under extreme pressure, especially in Northern Ireland as our industry depends heavily on exports.
“The key measure that must be taken is to review and increase the EU Intervention level that was set over a decade ago and simply does not reflect the reality of production costs in 2015. The EU Intervention Level is designed to protect farmers if prices fall below a certain level, but the current rate is far too low at 17 pence per litre and means that many farmers would have been forced to exit the industry by the time this level was reached.
“As the report outlines, the lifting of the Milk Quota system on 1 April 2015 will further increase market volatility and I would strongly urge the EU Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan to review and increase the intervention level before the milk quota system ends.
“The situation for Northern Ireland dairy farmers is particularly difficult as we are so reliant on exports and we are facing the worst effects of the current global imbalance between market demand and supply. Farmers are having to pay more for the production of milk than they get in return and this trend simply cannot continue. As this report outlines - certain key measures must be taken that will support the dairy industry before it slips further into crisis.
“As my colleagues and I also argue in this report – there is a need to expand the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to include small-scale suppliers. Most dairy farmers are not currently protected by the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who only investigates complaints involving suppliers to the main ten supermarkets and retailers, leaving the vast majority of farmers outside of the protection that the Groceries Code Adjudicator offers.
“We are calling on the Secretary of State to act now and to intervene and expand the remit of the GCA before the General Election in May, and before further crisis in the industry sets in on her watch. The EU Commissioner for Agriculture must also act urgently to address the intervention levels so that a more realistic commensurate level is agreed to protect and support farmers in the industry.”