O’Neill Turns To Europe After Constructive Meeting With DEFRA On Milk Crisis

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today urged the European Union to act swiftly to support farmers in the North.

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.

[caption id="attachment_49041" align="alignleft" width="280"]DARD Minister DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill has met again with the DEFRA Minister to try and ease the milk crisis facing dairy farmers in the North. [/caption]

The current EU safety net intervention price for skimmed milk powder equates to around 14 pence per litre. EU market measures currently available include public buying-in (intervention) and private storage aid for butter and skimmed milk powder. The Commission has recently announced that these measures will be extended from 30 September to 29 February 2016. The dairy intervention threshold price was last reviewed in 2008.

Speaking from London after her second meeting inside a week with Liz Truss, the British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister O’Neill gave a measured welcome to the discussions.

She said: “Today’s meeting was broadly constructive and covered a wide range of issues on which agreement for action could be built including fairness in the supply chain and procurement. However, these are steps for the longer term. I, and the industry representatives from the North, were adamant with Liz Truss that action is needed now. That the intervention price must be raised and that pursuing opportunities in opening new markets tomorrow will not address the crisis our farmers are facing today.”

Today’s meeting – which also involved farming unions and Ministers from Wales and Scotland – was called to address a number of issues facing the farming industry, especially the dairy sector.

Minister O’Neill said: “It is clear that European support for our farmers is vital right now. The dairy sector in the North, which is heavily reliant on exports, has been hit hard by adverse exchange rates and poor market conditions. Farm gate milk prices are now below the cost of production. Assistance is required. Despite appearances, I believe that the picture is not as acute in Britain.

“While it is good that my counterparts in Wales and Scotland are committed to influencing Liz Truss to act speedily, I am clear that raising the intervention price threshold is the key lever to effect positive change in the short term.”

The Minister intends to ask the EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to raise the intervention threshold price when she meets him in a few weeks. She will also attend the specially-convened Agriculture Council in Brussels on September 7.

She said: “We accept that a successful dairy industry needs a buoyant market with fair returns and cannot rely on intervention. However, if we are to have a sustainable dairy industry, we also need to have reasonable safety nets when global market shocks occur. I will continue to lobby for those protections.

“I will press firmly for a review of the current intervention price when I meet Commissioner Hogan. The threshold price was last reviewed six years ago, and much has changed since then. A new and higher price would help stabilise prices by putting a floor in the market.”

The Minister added: “I will make these points to the Commissioner when we meet. I will highlight the very real concerns of our farmers and I will ask him to take action to address them. I have not and will not allow Europe to ignore the plight of our farmers.”