Belfast Telegraph

No chance of dairy farms bailout from cash-strapped Stormont, warns minister

By Chris McCullough

There is no money in the Northern Ireland Executive kitty to help those in the struggling agriculture sector, Finance Minister Arlene Foster has told dairy farmers at a private meeting.

The DUP minister visited farmer Charlie Weir at his home in Waringstown with party members David Simpson MP and councillor Carla Lockhart to lend her support to their plight.

Four other local farmers attended the meeting on Monday night to discuss what help, if any, was available from the Executive.

They were told by Mrs Foster that there was no local money available to help them through the crisis.

She said: "Representing a rural constituency, I am aware of the pressures facing the vast majority of farmers at present, not just in dairying but across many of the other sectors.

"The strength of sterling compared to the euro, increased supply of milk globally and downward pressure being imposed by the retailers are all having a negative impact on farm gate prices.

"Unfortunately, there is little that the Northern Ireland Executive can do to increase the price that farmers receive for their produce.

"I have no doubt that many farms will suffer from cashflow problems over the coming months.

"I do, however, hope that the processors, banks and key suppliers work with farmers over the coming months to help them survive the current downturn.

"I will be engaging with the various sectors within the agricultural industry and encouraging them to work with farmers."

After the meeting Mr Weir said: "Minister Foster has assured us she is doing all she can to try and help us.

"She truly realises the vital importance of the agricultural industry to the Northern Ireland economy but did tell us there is no pot of money that can be given to help us, especially when there are other areas like health and education also crying out for money.

"Arlene told us she is stepping up efforts to meet with Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to try and find a solution to this crisis we find ourselves in.

"She is acutely aware of the pressures we and the milk processors are under and I believe is doing what she can to help.

"Farmers are getting more and more angry as this thing drags on. Tempers are getting up. We need a solution and we need it now. We simply cannot stand by and watch our livelihoods be taken away from under us."

Mr Simpson said Westminster needed to assist in resolving the crisis. He said: "Through my role on the Defra committee I will be pressing the Defra minister to support an increase in export refunds at a European level. There is no doubt that farmers throughout the UK are suffering and Europe must act immediately to ensure that one of its largest industries is protected."

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