Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland dairy farmers press David Cameron for help

Beleaguered dairy farmers in Northern Ireland want the Prime Minister to help resolve their "worst crisis in living memory".

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) is seeking an urgent meeting with David Cameron to discuss the devastating impact of falling milk prices.

Chris Osborne, UFU senior policy officer, told Stormont's agriculture committee: "We feel that the situation is that severe, David Cameron needs to be considering this as well.

"We are getting quite frustrated about the lack of action on the part of Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)."

Around 200 farmers in a convoy of tractors picketed Parliament Buildings where MLAs convened an emergency meeting of the agriculture scrutiny committee.

They claim the continued decline in milk prices means production costs can no longer be met.

Farmers get an average of 19 pence for every litre of milk compared to the 26 pence they received around 18 months ago.

They have called for the European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to review the "outdated" intervention price which was set at 16 pence in 2003.

Farmers will go out of business if the EU Commission does not act, union representatives have claimed.

Mr Osborne said milk prices in Northern Ireland were the seventh worst in Europe, behind Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and a number of the Balkan states.

He added: "I have been in this job since 2009 and this is the third crisis we have faced.

"The big difference this time is, peaks and troughs. This trough is the deepest in living memory and I can see it not ending any time soon."

The committee was also told that farmers in Northern Ireland have been suffering losses for longer than their counterparts in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

The Russian trade ban, a reduced demand for powdered products in China and an unfavourable exchange rate were highlighted as major causes of the problems.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill was also called to give evidence to the committee.

She said the UK Environment Secretary Liz Truss has failed to fully grasp the gravity of the local situation.

Ms O'Neil said: "I do not think she understands the problem here."

The minister also described the response from Europe as "unacceptable" and called for farmers, unions, MLAs, MPs and MEPs to collectively pressurise the Commission.

"The solution to the crisis cannot be found at a local level," Ms O'Neill said. "What we need is a concerted effort by all the players.

"I am firmly of the view that dealing with these challenges will be successful if we work together and that means producers, processors, the representatives, the banks, the Executive here, Westminster and Europe."

Meanwhile, DUP MLA William Irwin appealed for representatives to exploit the hardship which was now expanding across the continent.

He said: "I think there is more pain being felt across Europe. I think there is an opportunity and we must maximise that."

A Defra spokesman said: "We want a competitive and resilient dairy industry.

"We understand the concerns of UK dairy farmers over volatile global milk prices and continue to support the industry so it can take advantage of the growing demand for British produce."

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