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Europe can and must do more to help us

By Jim Nicolson

Published 04/08/2015

This is my 26th year as a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee and I cannot recall a period when so many sectors have faced economic difficulties all at once.

Producers in the dairy, beef, sheep, pig, arable and cereal sectors are all currently under pressure.

Dairy farmers have been hit particularly hard in the past 12 months. Prices have tumbled to unsustainable low levels due to a combination of factors, including the on-going Russian trade embargo, global oversupply and the weak euro, which is affecting all farmers and exporters.

For example, the average base price paid to dairy farmers in Northern Ireland is 19 pence per litre - well below the average cost of production at 26.5 pence per litre.

Last month MEPs from across the EU overwhelmingly endorsed a report I prepared on the dairy sector which calls on the European Commission to do more to support it.

The key recommendation of the report is for an urgent review of intervention prices so that they more accurately reflect the current costs of production.

This would quickly help to put a floor in the market and introduce some much-needed stability.

Frustratingly, the EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan continues to rule out taking this action. Other measures contained in the report include making the supply chain fairer for dairy farmers and improving the communication of prices to send clear, up-to-date signals to the industry. In my view there are funds already available to assist the sector and my report calls for superlevy fines - which have been collected from the dairy industry and amount to an estimated €860 million for 2014/2015 - to be retained to help farmers instead of the money being diverted to other aspects of the commission's work.

The parliament has spoken with a majority of MEPs calling for meaningful action at the EU level to support the dairy sector and the ball is now firmly in the court of the European Commission.

The EU's agriculture council, which is made up of the Agriculture Ministers from each member state, also has an important role to play here too.

Ministers must collectively push the European Commission to review intervention prices and implement the package of recommendations contained within my report as farmers cannot wait until next year, when the situation is projected to improve.

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