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Farmers feel the force of Berlusconi's antics


David Elliott, Business Editor

David Elliott, Business Editor

David Elliott, Business Editor

It's not often you get to write about Silvio Berlusconi and Northern Ireland's weather-beaten farmers in the same sentence. Now, before you get over-excited at the idea that the Italian statesman/lothario/media tycoon (delete as appropriate for the day's newsflow) has taken a sudden interest in dropped calves from Kircubbin or has decided to buy up a couple of acres in Fermanagh, let's just say he hasn't.

The idea of the bronzed and perfectly coiffured politician donning a pair of wellies and heading off to Markethill to open the new livestock mart is more than most people's imagination could handle and should indeed be banished to the outer reaches of fiction.

But by doing what he does best – disruption in his own land – Mr Berlusconi has knocked a couple of pounds from the single farm payment which farmers from Strabane to Strangford and Beau to Bangor will be looking forward to in the months ahead.

That's because the payment, a form of subsidy paid out by the European Unions to farmers, is agreed in euros each year.

That's fine for those in the Eurozone but for UK farmers it needs to be converted into sterling and that is carried out at the euro/sterling exchange rate on the last day of September each year. This year your country cousins will be rubbing their hands together because a 5% increase in the value of the euro means they'll be splitting £16m extra between them.

But if it wasn't for Berlusconi's antics over the weekend it would have been even higher.

He withdrew all his People of Freedom Party's ministers from the Italian government in an effort to upset the coalition there and in so doing prompted a slide in the value of the euro by 50 cents against the pound.

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And while this might seem like a long-winded way of blaming Silvio Berlusconi for taking the cherry off the top of the agricultural cake, we should really be grateful that the payment has increased since last year.

What other sectors feel about our farmers receiving an annual subsidy is for another column, but if the last year's weather has taught us anything, it's that some form of support is needed to ride out the more difficult years.