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Farmers in crisis need government to help

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 07/11/2016

The Northern Ireland countryside is liberally dotted with herds of dairy cattle but this apparently idyllic scene masks the financial crisis of the dairy industry where many farmers are queuing up to quit because they cannot make ends meet. Stock image
The Northern Ireland countryside is liberally dotted with herds of dairy cattle but this apparently idyllic scene masks the financial crisis of the dairy industry where many farmers are queuing up to quit because they cannot make ends meet. Stock image

The Northern Ireland countryside is liberally dotted with herds of dairy cattle but this apparently idyllic scene masks the financial crisis of the dairy industry where many farmers are queuing up to quit because they cannot make ends meet.

As our story today shows, more than 700 dairy cows will be sold by one livestock auctioneer in the coming weeks, including a herd owned by one of Northern Ireland's richest families, relatives of the late Lord Ballyedmond.

The reality is that all farmers are under financial pressure. The figures show that between 2014 and 2015, farming income fell by 40%, from £312m to £183m.

Unfortunately, dairy farmers have been particularly badly hit.

Although they remain the biggest contributor to the sector, dairy prices fell dramatically, by 27%.

They have started to rise slowly in recent weeks, but for far too many dairy farmers this is simply a case of too little, too late.

The whole industry needs stronger regulation, to protect small farms and reward sustainability.

Also, much more consideration needs to be given to co-operative ventures, where smaller farms come together in some form, to provide greater bargaining power.

Supermarkets have a duty to take steps to support the communities among which they operate.

They should also act responsibly and consider the implication of the policy of importing overseas milk which drives down prices.

Costs are important, but many customers would be willing to pay a little more to buy local milk and help to keep our dairy farmers afloat.

Although farming is our biggest industry, it faces huge challenges. Almost 50% of all our farmers have no-one to take over their land and business when they retire because dairy farming is no longer an appealing career for young people to follow.

The traditional hard work, even drudgery, on the farm, offers no real incentive for younger generations to take over the running of the family holding. And given that the average farm income is just under £25,000 per annum, this is scant return for such long hours and commitment.

Without doubt, the cutting edge of Brexit will add its own hard challenges in due course. Our farmers and their families are in deep trouble, and the government needs to do much more to support them.

Belfast Telegraph

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