Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland milk protests to be stepped up as fifth generation farmer fears for his future

By Chris McCullough

Local farmers are set to step up their protests over falling farmgate prices this week with more action planned in Coleraine, Strabane and Omagh.

In the past few days farmers have targeted supermarkets, blocking deliveries of dairy products in a bid to stop the retailers using milk as a loss leader in their stores.

But now the action is intensifying to cover other sectors of the industry, including lamb prices which are also suffering.

A farmer in Castlederg said: "We have protests planned this week in Omagh highlighting the fact that they are bringing in lamb from New Zealand and Australia at a time when our own lamb is so plentiful.

"This is driving down the prices of our own top quality lamb."

Some angry farmers have also carried out what they call the 'milk trolley challenge' in some local supermarkets.

The 'challenge' sees farmers clearing the supermarket shelves of milk and other dairy products before taking the full trolleys to the till and abandoning them.

The falling milk prices are causing worrying times on all dairy farms in Northern Ireland but are causing even more concern for Waringstown farmer Charlie Weir.

Charlie is the fifth generation of his family to work his farm but is extremely concerned his children may never have their day there if the current falling trends continue.

The Weir farm is one of the larger dairy farms in Northern Ireland, milking 600 cows - a pedigree herd that has taken over 12 years to build up with a lot of passion, a lot of determination and a lot of money.

Charlie is only 44, and is married to Michelle. The christian family have four children; Alexander (14), Jonathan (10), Kate (9) and Matthew (7).

They live around three miles from their farm which is home to Charlie's elderly father and mother.

He also fears if things get much worse his parents may have to leave the farm.

"People don't realise how serious the situation is regarding these milk prices," Charlie said. "We are currently receiving around 21 pence per litre which is a far cry from the over 30 pence we received this time last year.

"There is talk the price could fall to 16 pence per litre. If it does my farm would be losing another £25,000 per month.

"No dairy farmer being paid 16 pence per litre would be able to pay their bills; and it would only be a matter of months before the banks came knocking.

"Even at 21 pence per litre we are losing money each month as the costs of production are not being met.

"On my farm I employ six full-time staff and two more part-time workers. They would also obviously be affected if things got worse.

"If there is no income, there cannot be any outgoings. In a few months we will move into winter feeding which endures more costs.

"I really fear where the industry will be by that stage.

"I want to pass the farm on to my children and let them take over. My eldest boy is farming mad, even more than me when I was his age. However, I am fearful there may not be a farm to hand over if this crisis drags on."

Belfast Telegraph