Belfast Telegraph

Europe's £5.1m aid package blasted as 'pitiful' by farmers

By Chris McCullough

Northern Ireland dairy farmers say they have been left short-changed after only receiving a pot of £5.1m from the European Union's farm aid package to help their dwindling cash flows.

It means each dairy farmer could receive an average £2,000 but actual payments will likely be based on production figures in 2014-15.

Defra Secretary Liz Truss announced the split of the £26.2m to each of the four countries that make up the UK member state.

However, Charlie Weir from Fair Price Farming NI said the amount was "pitiful" after the Defra secretary asked if she could make Northern Ireland a special case.

The one-off support payment is to help with farmers' cash flow problems stemming from low prices for milk and other produce, Ms Truss confirmed.

Mr Weir said: "We sat in a meeting with Liz Truss where she asked if she could make Northern Ireland a special case due to our dependence on exports.

"It seems she does not care about Northern Ireland or the amount of money dairy farming brings into the UK economy by offering us a pitiful £5.1m. That works out at around 0.25 pence per litre which isn't going to make much difference to farm cash flows.

"The Northern Ireland economy has lost over £220m since this crisis in dairying began. It's unbelievable Truss thinks £5.1m will make any great difference."

Ulster Farmers' Union president Ian Marshall said: "Even though we successfully lobbied for an additional share of the funding because of the difficulties here, the amount coming to Northern Ireland will not aid financial recovery. Nor will it help the wider industry through what will be one of the toughest winters in living memory for farming families."

Dairy farmers in England will share £15.5m in recognition of the prolonged period of low prices.

Each farmer in England will receive an average £1,820 payment but actual payments will be based on their milk production.

Ministers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have flexibility about how they wish to use their allocations to support farmers.

Northern Ireland has actually been given a boosted allocation, worth £5.1m, in recognition that Northern Irish farmers have been suffering from some of the lowest prices across Europe.

Wales received £3.2m and Scotland £2.3m in the announcement.

The UK's overall direct aid package is worth £26.2m, the third largest of all member states.

Ms Truss said: "We recognise that many dairy farmers are suffering financial difficulty at the moment and the support announced today will offer some relief.

"While its right that the immediate focus is on support for farmers' cash flow it is equally important that we help build for the long term.

"Defra is also pursuing a host of measures to improve the long-term stability of the dairy industry and help farming businesses grow and thrive."

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