It’s the end of the road for some dairy farmers in Northern Ireland if the governments do not respond to their cry for help.
Around 300 angry dairy farmers staged a protest at Northern Ireland’s Parliament Buildings last Thursday frustrated with the poor milk prices.
A delegation of farmers also held an emergency meeting with the Agriculture and Rural Development committee which had been recalled from its summer recess. Dairy farmers in Northern Ireland say they are fed up with the lack of action to help them in this dire situation and so asked for the meeting at Stormont.
In a region which relies on exporting around 85 per cent of their dairy produce, farmers there face even more financial constraints further burdened by the sterling euro exchange rates. Some of the farmers are receiving 19 pence per litre for their milk, a drop of over 10 pence on the previous year and around eight pence below the cost of production. Farmers are pushing for the current EU intervention buying price, set back in 2003 at 14 pence, to be pushed higher to help the situation.
Representatives from the Ulster Farmers Union, who were in attendance at the protest, were heckled for their lack of support for action against the low prices.
DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill spoke to some of the farmers outside before the committee meeting started. During the meeting those in attendance heard from Dairy UK, the Ulster Farmers Union and DARD. The committee also heard from four farmers who told the real story as it is unfolding on their farms. Charlie Weir, James Stewart, Johnny Matthews and Kyle Savage all farm in the Banbridge area. They did not mince their words at the meeting. Kyle Savage told the committee: “This is a cry for help, ignore it and we are history! “Dairy farmers are on their knees and need assistance from the Executive and from Europe now to save us from going under.”
Minister O’Neill assured the committee she was doing everything in her department’s power to help the farmers. She also highlighted the difficulty in Europe citing that EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan refuses to recognise that there is a crisis. However, when pressed on redirecting money from current projects to help the farmers, the Minister said that was “not so simple and unrealistic.” It was made clear to the committee that there could be worse prices yet to come potentially dropping to 16 pence per litre. Kyle said: “If they do drop that far then its lights out for dairy farmers. “No one should underestimate the seriousness of this crisis we find ourselves in.” At the end of the meeting the chair of the ARD committee William Irwin announced he will be writing to local MPs to urge for a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron. He will also write to the DARD Minister and push for her to lead a high level delegation to Brussels. Mr Irwin said: “There is no quick fix to this problem but we must keep the pressure on to save our industry.” Meanwhile, on the same evening, another group of farmers staged a protest outside Asda and Tesco supermarkets in Coleraine.