Northern Ireland farmers stage meetings in bid to tackle low prices crisis
Farmers' leaders are organising a series of crisis meetings across Northern Ireland to try and tackle the poor prices being paid for their produce.
The area summits, beginning next week and hosted by Ulster Farmers' Union president Ian Marshall, include Enniskillen, Armagh, Ballymena and Coleraine.
The UFU chief said as well as focusing on the supply chain, profitability and market volatility, the gatherings will discuss ideas to develop new markets.
The initiaitive comes after the Belfast Telegraph revealed the scandal of one producer being paid 8p for turnips, which then turned up in supermarkets at almost 10 times that price.
The plight of producers led to an investigation by the Assembly's agriculture committee whose chairman William Irwin has blamed intense competition between the major supermarkets for the record low prices being paid.
Mr Marshall said that while there was widespread recognition of the importance of farming and food to the local economy, there remained an urgent need to put ways to tackle price volatility at the top of the agenda.
He added the meetings will be an opportunity for the UFU leadership team to highlight a number of proposals. Mr Marshall said: "As well as focusing on the supply chain, profitability and market volatility, we also intend to take forward ideas to develop new markets, particularly outside the EU.
"We will look at alternative finance sources and the continuation of training and new capital investment.
"The meetings really are an excellent opportunity for members to speak directly with the UFU leadership team - the people who are at the forefront of discussions on agriculture at local, national and EU levels." The first meeting is in Enniskillen at the Killyhevlin Hotel next Monday, followed by Armagh in the City Hotel on Wednesday, Januay 13; Monday, January 18 at the Tullyglass Hotel, Ballymena; Wednesday, January 20 at the Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh; Monday, January 25 at the Roe Park Resort, Limavady; and Wednesday, January 27 at the La Mon Hotel, Castlereagh. All meetings start at 8pm.
As the farm prices crisis escalates, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill accused EU Commissioner Phil Hogan of "burying his head in the sand" - and warned he may have to resign.
The Sinn Fein minister also said it was "shocking" and "disgusting" that farmers were being paid so little for produce like turnips.
"Farmers need to be paid a fair price for what they produce. Somebody getting that kind of price for what they are producing is absolutely disgusting and it should not be acceptable.
"I do not agree with the approach that the commissioner has taken. I have been critical of him and to him in person."
Responding to an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann, she said: "I think that if the dairy industry continues with the low prices and the glut that it has, there will come a time when his position of burying his head in the sand and saying that there is no crisis will no longer be sustainable."