O’Neill Meets Farmers To Discuss Dairy Crisis

Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill today continued her busy round of talks on the milk crisis and heard first-hand about the issues facing farmers impacted by the steep fall in milk prices over this past year.

The Minister welcomed a delegation of farmers from Fair Price Farming NI to Stormont to hear their concerns and to discuss the efforts under way to address them. The farmers’ delegation included members of Fair Price Farming NI who were accompanied by Oliver McMullan MLA.

[caption id="attachment_34982" align="alignleft" width="200"]Northern Ireland DARD  MInister Michelle O'Neill MLA. Northern Ireland DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has met with local farmers’ representatives. [/caption]

Speaking after the meeting, the Minister said: “I have given assurances that my door is open and have been listening to farmers’ concerns. Today’s visit offered me another opportunity to learn more about the impact of this very significant fall in milk prices on the farm income. It is important for me to discuss this issue with those directly affected, to hear how it impacts them and their families and to offer my support.

“We have been working with the six local banks to identify methods of support for the sector and I have been encouraging them to be more flexible and understanding. We are also engaging with the retail sector, Agri-Food Strategy Board, processors and producers to develop a collaborative approach to this crisis.

“My Department has also been offering practical help at a local level. CAFRE advisors are on the ground offering valuable practical support throughout this year on improving technical efficiency and business performance and I urge farmers to make use of this service.”

The Minister added: “I met again yesterday with the farming unions, Scottish and Welsh Ministers and the British Secretary of State Liz Truss and I made it clear that action was needed now to address the unique and extreme circumstances facing our farmers in the north. I will take this same message to EU Commissioner Phil Hogan when I meet him in a couple of weeks to press for movement on the intervention threshold price.”

Earlier, she also met a delegation from the Ulster Unionist Party to discuss the ongoing crisis and called on that party’s elected representatives in Belfast, London and Brussels to work with her to find a resolution.

“We are currently witnessing a global crisis caused by a range of international market and exchange rate factors. It cannot be solved at a local level alone. I have been doing all I can to support our farmers. And I look to all our elected representatives to do the same,” added Minister O’Neill.

In June 2015, liquid milk prices stood at 19.85 pence per litre, 9.88 pence per litre lower than June 2014. It is understood that this is well below the cost of milk production.

The current EU safety net intervention price is well below the cost of production. This consists of public buying-in (intervention) and private storage aid for both butter and skimmed milk powder. The measures have recently been extended from 30 September to 29 February 2016. The dairy intervention threshold price was last reviewed in 2008.

The Minister has met with the Defra Secretary of State twice in recent days on this matter. She has also written to the three MEPs and to the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, with whom she will meet in September.