Poots: ‘Farmer always seems to be the one who gets the poor return from the processor’

Ms Catherine Kelly (Sinn Fein, West Tyrone) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline the steps his Department is taking to address falling farm income, which fell by a staggering 25% between 2018 and 2019 and is further compounded by the uncertainties created by Brexit.
Ms Catherine Kelly (Sinn Fein, West Tyrone)Ms Catherine Kelly (Sinn Fein, West Tyrone)
Ms Catherine Kelly (Sinn Fein, West Tyrone)

Responding to Ms Kelly’s question Mr Poots said: “When it comes to falling incomes, we live in a scenario of global markets. In some years, we will do better, because others have been less fortunate.

“Sometimes, there will be major floods. In Australia, for example, there have been major fires this year.

“Those things generally have an impact on global prices. In the last year, however, as the Member said, prices have fallen by over 25% and that is from a pretty low base in the first instance.

“In the United Kingdom, in particular, there are three groups that benefit from food production: the farmers, the processors and the supermarkets.

“The consumer has to pay for what is offered. The farmer always seems to be the one who gets the poor return vis-à-vis the processor and, in particular, the supermarkets. Some of the things that are being imposed, particularly by the supermarkets, are grossly unfair, and they will lead to farmers receiving very poor prices.

“I make the argument that the Assembly has adopted a policy of Fairtrade to ensure that coffee farmers, for example, in South America or farmers who produce quality fruit in west Africa and so forth get a decent price for their goods: we should ensure that farmers in Northern Ireland get a decent price for their goods as well,”

Ms Kelly followed up the question by asking: “Does the minister recognise that the ending of the areas of natural constraint compensatory payment is a further blow to the income of hill farmers?”

The minister commented: “That decision was taken some years ago, and it finally closed in 2018. Going forward, we need to look at new ways of providing support for farmers.

“I indicated to the committee on Thursday that hill farmers are so important to our ecosystem, our environment and the production of quality goods that are often finished down in the lowlands, but, nonetheless, the role of hill farmers is critical going forward.

“I want to devise a scheme beyond 2020 that is good for all farmers. I want it to be good for hill farmers, because I do not want them to be left behind.”