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Farmers' woes food for thought

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 08/01/2016


Farmer Robin McKee must wonder why he ever bothered gaining an international reputation for the Comber potatoes he grows on his land in Co Down. While the humble spud may now enjoy special status under European law, it is certainly not adding value to Mr McKee's income.

For he is receiving only 14p a kilo for his crop, which then sells for £1 in supermarkets. The price is so low that Mr McKee thinks he will not even recoup the cost of keeping the potatoes in cold storage, and he sees little prospect of prices rising.

Of course, his is not an unique story, as this newspaper has frequently reported. Other crops such as turnips and carrots are nearly being given away by farmers compared to the cost charged to consumers by the retail trade.

Dairy farmers and now beef farmers are complaining that they are operating at a loss, with the prices paid for their produce failing to cover the rearing or upkeep of the cattle.

While it is encouraging that the big supermarkets are keen to support local producers by buying their fruit and veg or meat, chicken and lamb, the intense competition among the retailers means that they are constantly forcing producers to lower their prices.

And part of the blame also lies with consumers. We all want the highest quality food at the cheapest possible prices. We like the fact that products can be traced back from the shelves to the Northern Ireland farms, guaranteeing us the quality we demand. But we take little heed of the pressures on the farmers.

There is a mythology that all farmers are rich, driving about in expensive vehicles and with tens of thousands of pounds worth of machinery parked in their yards.

The reality is that Northern Ireland farms are the smallest in the UK on average, and whatever the perception, small holdings are not goldmines.

Farming is a round-the-clock, 365-days-a year occupation for many, with farmers having to go out in all weathers for a return which many of them could improve upon in many other occupations.

Farmers may be asset rich - land is always worth good money - but more and more are finding themselves cash poor.

Retailers and consumers both need to be more realistic in their appreciation of the real cost of food.

Belfast Telegraph

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