Sour reception for minister at dairy farmers' protest
Farmers from across Northern Ireland have travelled to London to protest about the squeeze on milk prices that threatens the industry's future.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said it wanted to “show solidarity” with dairy farmers in England who were “pushed to the brink” by the latest cuts to the price they are paid for milk.
Although the dairy industry operates differently in Northern Ireland, farmers here are suffering the same hardship, according to Andrew Addison, who farms just outside Lisburn.
Mr Addison, who is the UFU's dairy chairman, said milk prices in Northern Ireland had dropped to 20.8p a litre in June, and could go down further to 20.5p at the next auction.
He said: “We are getting below the cost of production at the moment.”
Milk prices in Northern Ireland are set at the United Dairy Farmers auction.
English farmers are paid by the retail sector, with prices also dropping below production costs.
There are also differences in the production process and the milk market — 85% of the industry's products in Northern Ireland are exported — making it particularly vulnerable to fluctuating prices around the world.
Mr Addison added: “We are showing solidarity with our English counterparts here. We need more money for milk.”
In all up to 3,000 people crammed a rally near Parliament to show their anger at the latest round of cuts to the price they are paid.
UK Agriculture Minister Jim Paice — who this week admitted not knowing how much milk costs as “my wife buys most of it” — received a hostile reception.
He drew loud angry boos and heckling from the crowd of farmers when he asked them if they were sure they had done everything they could to drive down production costs.
The milk price cuts have wiped £50,000 off average farm incomes, leading to calls from Farmers For Action for direct action, possibly including targeting the Olympic Games.
Chairman David Handley warned if the cuts were not reversed by the end of the month “we will have no option but to show them what we are capable of”.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (left) met some of the Northern Ireland delegation.
She said: “Obviously there are differences with Northern Ireland, but MPs and the UFU were there to support the dairy industry.”
She said she would raising their plight at the Commons agriculture committee she recently joined.