| 7.2°C Belfast

There's ample evidence of farming crisis

John Simpson concludes in his pre-Balmoral Show analysis last week (May 10) that claims by farmers that more realistic off-farm prices are necessary needs better evidence.

I find John's analysis contradictory, presumptive and ultimately wide of the mark. Farmers do need better off-farm prices and it remains the case supermarkets use their power to retain the lion's share of profits in the food chain.

Most farmers have two income streams: market prices and the additional support they receive from the Common Agricultural Policy.

John identifies that in 2010 Northern Ireland total net farm income was only £3m more than Single Farm Payment receipts. John dismantles his own argument with these stark facts. The situation in 2011 is made worse by soaring costs. Farm gate prices have not risen to offset this and there is genuine pain in sectors such as our local pig industry.

John Simpson's analysis is a throw back to the old argument that farmers are crying wolf; but the industry has moved on from this tired old stereotype.

There are immediate challenges which need addressed and our view that the food chain is dysfunctional is endorsed by the Coalition Government which has committed to introducing a UK Supermarket Adjudicator. The Government has recognised that the status quo is bad news for farmers and, indeed, consumers.

Similar legislation is being progressed through the European Parliament because farmers across Europe are facing the same challenges: farm gate prices which barely cover the cost of production and competition from low-cost imports produced to standards which would not be allowed on European farms. The way forward sought by farmers involves progressive ideas for producers and consumers such as having clear country of origin labelling on food; ensuring all food on our shelves is produced to the standards required by the EU; and creating a new model for the food chain, where producers, processors and retailers can all enjoy a sustainable profit, with consumers reassured local produce will be available to them.

There is ample evidence that farmers need more realistic off-farm prices. This is recognised by the Government and the EU, and farmers are putting forward progressive solutions, not harking back to tired old arguments.

John Thompson

President, Ulster Farmers' Union