Farmers push their milk protest from Banbridge to Brussels

The farmers milk protest at Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park �Paul Byrne Photography INBL1532-200PB
The farmers milk protest at Tesco Extra at Bridgewater Park �Paul Byrne Photography INBL1532-200PB

Dairy farmers who cleared shelves of milk at Banbridge Tesco branches last week, have said it’s unlikely there will be any more protests of this nature.

The local demonstration was part of a nation-wide campaign to highlight the depressed price farmers are being paid for their product, but tactics are now switching to a political battle.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium handled a response on behalf of Tesco in relation to the Banbridge protests.

“We completely understand the current frustration of farmers but it is wrong to blame retailers,” an NIRC spokesman said.

Blaming global economic trends as the root cause of the problem, he continued: “Our members buy less than 10% of milk in NI and actually pay one of the highest prices.

“We do understand that this a tough time for farmers and we continue to champion and invest in Northern Ireland dairy products. While we respect the farmers’ right to protest peacefully, anything that makes it harder for retailers to trade or stops consumers from buying the very produce farmers supply is unhelpful to all concerned.”

Donacloney farmer Brian Matthews, however, criticised Tesco for not issuing a response for themselves saying it was because they are ‘embarrassed’.

Pointing to angry protests in France where farmers blocked roads and sprayed slurry up buildings, Mr Matthews praised the restraint of local protesters.

Mr Matthews, along with son Jonny, are part of a group of farmers meeting with local politicians and say so far they have been well received.

“We have stuck our head above the parapet for dairy farmers, but there are depressed prices in all farming sectors and we are speaking out for everybody,” he said.

Mr Matthews went on to highlight the mental stress the crises has caused, with local charity Yellow Ribbon inundated with calls from farmers asking for help. Others have been forced to resort to food banks to get by.

Local MLA Sydney Anderson said: “We must continue to press the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to increase intervention prices for dairy products as a matter of urgency. Large UK retailers must also step up to the plate by supporting a fair price for dairy farmers’ produce, whilst not acting to the detriment of the consumers’ finances.”

Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, said: “It started on Jonny Matthew’s farm last Monday which led to Edwin Poots and myself recalling the Stormont Committee.

“The Minister must listen to the loud voice of farmers – ignoring their plea for help is simply not an option.”