We'll blockade milk deliveries across Northern Ireland, farmers warn
Angry dairy farmers have vowed to continue protesting outside Northern Ireland supermarkets as the crisis over milk prices deepens.
The Belfast Telegraph can reveal there are ongoing plans to disrupt milk deliveries until the big grocers stop using it as a loss leader.
The desperate farmers - who number around 2,500 - have warned they will go out of business if they don't get more money for the milk they're currently producing at a substantial loss.
Some 200 protested at supermarkets in Coleraine on Thursday night and turned away a milk lorry.
Another protest was held in Strabane last night when around 60 farmers blockaded an Asda store with tractors.
Diary farmer Ian Pollock said that demonstrations will continue until their message is heard.
He also said a 5p price hike could mean the difference between survival and going under.
"We're disgruntled with supermarkets using our product as a loss leader," he said.
"If the supermarkets would even pay 5p a litre more that would be the difference for some between survival and going under.
"We will roll out protests across the country until they take us seriously. We want them to know that enough is enough.
"Our plan is to stop the milk being delivered to prove a point and to stop them from selling it at such knock-down prices."
Prior to a supermarket stand-off, around 200 farmers protested in the grounds of Stormont on Thurday afternoon over dairy prices.
Farmers claim that what they are getting paid for milk is well below the cost of producing it, with losses running at between 8p and 10p on every litre produced in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Farmers Union told this newspaper that the milk price protests highlight the frustration of dairy farmers here.
"This level of anger demonstrated by busy, law abiding farmers through peaceful protest is understandable considering the continued monthly drop in prices they are receiving; with milk prices now sitting around 19p per litre, representing a 40% drop over the past 18-month period," a spokeswoman said.
"The significant and continued weakening of the euro against sterling is the major cause for the financial difficulties being experienced by the agriculture industry in general.
"This, coupled with the added external factors of a Russian ban on EU imports, extremely weak demand within the Chinese market and surplus world supplies has made life very tough for our dairy exporters.
"The UFU's key objective for the past 12 months has been to secure a realistic floor for the deteriorating dairy market and the political and public support we are getting helps strengthen our case for the EU to review its outdated intervention price."
Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has called for intervention at European level to tackle the problem.
Farmers want European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to authorise a significant lift in the intervention price - the price at which the authorities will buy milk to support the market.
It is currently about 16p a litre and was set in 2003. Consumers pay 70p for a litre of milk in Sainsbury's and 66p a litre at both Tesco and Asda.
A spokeswoman for Sainsbury's said the supermarket offered its milk farmers in Northern Ireland extra financial support.
"Our fresh milk farmers in Northern Ireland are part of our Dairy Development Group and are paid a premium for the milk they supply to us," she said.
Neither Tesco nor Asda wished to comment on claims that milk was being used as a loss leader.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium - which represents the supermarkets - said it was a "tough time" for farmers. "Global economic trends beyond the control of Northern Ireland farmers or retailers are the root cause of the reduced price currently paid to farmers for their milk. Our members buy less than 10% of milk in Northern Ireland and actually pay one of the highest prices."