With Stormont powerless, only Europe can solve dairy crisis
The sight of dairy farmers blockading a supermarket and protesting on the steps of Stormont shows the desperation they feel over the state of their industry. They know their actions will have little practical impact, but it is the best way they can get public and political attention focused on their plight.
Let there be no mistake, the dairy industry here is in real difficulty, with the cost of producing milk at least 10p a litre above the price farmers are paid for it.
Their difficulty is that the factors which have led to this imbalance are beyond the powers of Stormont to rectify. A global glut of milk, due in part to the western countries' trade embargo on exports to Russia, means that it is a commodity whose value continues to diminish. The big customers for locally produced milk - the supermarkets - have also driven prices down to levels that make it uneconomic to produce.
The public may sympathise with the farmers, but that may not translate into a willingness to pay more for their pints. In effect, the dairy farmers are facing a perfect storm - low prices at home and no market for exports.
It is little wonder that the farmers are feeling at their wits' end. They have invested heavily in their industry to ensure that proper hygiene is observed in the milking parlours, and they have the latest machines for milking their cows.
This crisis over prices has been going on for the best part of a year without any sign of improvement, and producers are worried that their livelihood is about to go down the drain.
It is a situation that is causing great stress to many farmers, with one psychologist warning some have already been driven to take their own lives and more tragedies may follow.
Local Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill, in urging intervention from Europe, has effectively admitted the local administration is powerless to help, other than by publicising the problem. The answer, if there is one, lies in Europe. Local politicians must try to apply pressure there for aid to this important industry.