O'Neill Remains Four Square Behind Dairy Industry

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“I remain firmly focused on supporting our dairy industry”, said DARD MInister Michelle O’Neill.

The Agriculture Minister  today restated her commitment to supporting the dairy sector in the north as it continues to feel the impact of falling milk prices.

[caption id="attachment_49041" align="alignleft" width="280"]Michelle O'Neill, DARD Minister has repeated her support for the dairy industry. Michelle O’Neill, DARD Minister has repeated her support for the dairy industry.[/caption]

The Minster revealed that she has written again to the DEFRA Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss, to ask her to press for EU support for the north’s dairy industry at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels. Minister O’Neill also revealed that she is eager to see the EU review its current intervention price.

She said: “I have raised this very concerning issue with the DEFRA Secretary of State before and I will continue to do so. The price being paid to our farmers for milk ex-farm continues to fall resulting in increasing difficulties on many farms. In fact, prices have now dropped by over 30% primarily because our dairy industry, unlike that in Britain, is heavily reliant on export markets.

“I informed Minister Truss that there is a greater need than ever to examine the intervention system and assess whether it adequately fulfils the role of providing an effective safety net. I agree with the recommendation in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report on Dairy Prices that DEFRA should seek a commitment from Commissioner Hogan that the current intervention price of around 17p per litre be reviewed before the ending of milk quota arrangements.”

The Minister said she was seeking a face-to-face meeting with the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to press for more EU support for the dairy sector in the north of Ireland. She was due to discuss the matter with the south’s Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine when its members pay a visit to Parliament Buildings this week.

The Minister went on to say: “Last month, I held a meeting with the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the six local banks to identify ways to support the sector. I was heartened by the banks’ reassurance that they remain determined to support the dairy industry and by their commitment to pro-active engagement with their customers individually to ensure they received the appropriate assistance. I intend to write to each of the banks to seek an update on the actions taken.”

However the Minister urged farmers who are concerned about their businesses to seek advice and support at the earliest opportunity.

She said: “My message to farmers is clear: plan carefully looking at herd performance, costs of production and financial repayments. If difficulties arise, please seek advice as early as possible. CAFRE Dairy Development Advisers have been circulating relevant information on managing cash flow and we have been liaising with the UFU who have been encouraging good financial discipline on farms. CAFRE has also provided a technical update to a number of the banks on the dairy situation and it is planning a round of technical seminars for farmers.”

As regards the Ulster Farmers’ Union proposals on the taxation treatment of farm profits and investment the Minister said: “I am supportive, in principle, of their proposals and have written to the Finance Minister urging him to raise this with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as soon as possible. I welcome an examination of any measures that could help local milk producers.”

Minister O’Neill and her officials continue to work with dairy exporters on finding alternative markets and the dairy international trade working group, established with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the south, continues to work on facilitating third country trade across the island of Ireland.

She said: “My Department’s role in facilitating exports is a key mechanism to help our dairy industry. I was buoyed by a 20% increase in exports in 2014 despite difficulties in some export markets such as Russia. The work we do to secure new markets and facilitate exports along with the provision of education, training, technical support and research to help improve efficiency, competitiveness and innovation will undoubtedly help the dairy sector’s ambitious growth targets as set out in Going for Growth. I also envisage that, subject to necessary approvals, financial support will be available under the next Rural Development Programme which includes a proposed Farm Business Improvement Scheme.”

“I cannot overstate the contribution the dairy industry makes to our local economy and to boost rural employment. I remain committed to doing all in my power to support it through this challenging time.”

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