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Lamb, pig, beef, arable... all are struggling to make ends meet

By Claire McNeilly

Published 04/08/2015

Saintfield sheep farmer Crosby Cleland
Saintfield sheep farmer Crosby Cleland

Farmers in all sectors have spoken of their fears for survival as a widespread crisis threatens to engulf the industry.

Hundreds of dairy farmers erected blockades at supermarkets recently over the low cost of milk, which they say grocers are selling as a loss-leader.

With the cost of production now dwarfing returns for the whole sector, Ulster Farmers Union president Ian Marshall warned the demonstrations could be the tip of the iceberg.

And Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said the situation would deteriorate further. "This is a crisis, and this crisis is getting worse," he added.

Saintfield sheep farmer Crosby Cleland, who has a 1,000-plus flock, told how the price of lamb was a major concern. "We used to have cows but we stopped in 2002 because there wasn't enough money in it," he said.

"Now we're facing the same problem with sheep. We're getting the same price we got in 2009. Lamb prices have gone down 6% in supermarkets in the last six years, whereas our lamb prices have gone down 25%. Our overheads are also much higher now so our expenses are a lot more than our income."

The 64-year-old described how his family had been on the farm for generations but added: "I doubt if we'll go on with it. I wouldn't encourage anyone to go into farming. I was hoping Stormont could do something to support farmers through this depression."

Ivor Ferguson (65), a pig farmer from Markethill, has 300 sows. "Pig farming is very difficult at the minute, it's difficult to break even," he said.

"The UK market is under pressure, and our prices are quite subdued for a number of economic factors. Unlike dairy farming, pig farming has always been volatile. We don't have a single farm payment from Brussels, so whenever the downturn came we had to batten down the hatches, keep going and wait for better times. That's what we're doing."

Farmer and cereal grower Allan Chambers, from Seaford, who has been in the industry for 50 years, said he was struggling with poor prices.

"Prices are as low as they were 12 to 14 years ago," the 69-year-old added. "We don't rent any land, which means we can survive, but only just survive, without replacing any machinery.

"We have no cash to reinvest in the business. In 2014 arable farming had a 45% drop in income from 2013. The situation is slightly worse for us now, so we're hitting two bad years in a row."

And dairy farmer Ian Pollock, from Castlerock, warned demonstrations would escalate unless action was taken. "We will roll out protests across the country until the supermarkets take us seriously," he added. "We want them to know that enough is enough."

His warning came as a local psychologist called on Stormont to offer help to farmers before more of them took their own lives due to the crisis.

Belfast Telegraph

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