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Farmers and businesses urged to unite on 'yes' vote

By Margaret Canning

Farmers and businesses must work together to ensure a vote to stay in the EU, a trade union conference has heard.

Farmers need the reassurance of EU membership to help them survive growing pressure from big business, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) event in Londonderry was told.

William Taylor, co-ordinator of campaign organisation, the Northern Ireland Farm Groups, said EU membership helped protect farmers. And he highlighted that in 2012, 25% of UK farmers were found to be living below the poverty line - a percentage he said was likely to have increased.

Mr Taylor said: "Two decades of increasing financial buying power by the large corporate retailers, large corporate food wholesalers, and, to a lesser extent, the processors, have been bearing down on family farmers."

Mr Taylor was speaking at the ICTU delegate conference in Londonderry's City Hotel, which continues today.

A motion to stay in the EU - a move which the ICTU said could support thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland - was supported by delegates.

Mr Taylor said EU membership could potentially result in legislation on minimum farm gate prices, which he claimed was not on the table from the leave camp.

The Coleraine man said farmers with money were typically able to buy from more than 100 suppliers, which helped the wider economy and struggling companies. "Farmers are large buyers of steel products," he added. "If 300,000 farmers across the UK were being properly rewarded for their work, they would purchase on average five to 10 tonnes of steel per annum per farm.

"This would equate to 25% of the steel purchased at Port Talbot. It would then take a lot more Michelin lorry tyres to deliver this steel and many other deliveries to prosperous farms."

ICTU assistant general secretary Peter Bunting said farmers and business needed to join forces to ensure there was a 'yes' vote in the referendum.

"It is critical that farmers and the business community work in tandem to ensure we maximise the 'yes' vote in the upcoming referendum," he said.

"This will ensure that Northern Ireland has a chance of growing its economy, because it will only happen if we are in Europe."

Farmers received around £635m in EU money from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development over two years, mainly due to single farm payments.

Belfast Telegraph