ULSTER Unionist MLA and party Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson has called on the DARD Minister to listen to the views and concerns of Northern Ireland dairy farmers to ensure the future profitability of their industry.
The Upper Bann MLA, who has previously called for Stormont Departments to fight to achieve ‘Best Nation Status’ for our local dairy farmers, said: “Dairy producers must be able to better control their own destiny.
“We must ensure that we are doing all we can so that our local dairy farmers have the opportunity to modernise, increase their efficiency and face the challenges of a ‘post quota’ milk market. Farmers must also receive a fair price for their produce which fully reflects the costs of production.”
Mrs Dobson met this week with Banbridge dairy farmer William Cromie who is a strong voice within the dairy industry.
Following the meeting he said: “I have consistently said that for far too long dairy farmers as producers have not had any control regarding negotiating a fair price for their products.
“This has resulted in producers become ‘price takers’ in a marketplace where price paid is driven by processers rather than the raw milk producer. This has resulted in farmers not receiving a fair slice of the cake. Indeed farmers now work increasingly longer hours and under increased stress to receive a much lower level of payment for their products.
“This cannot continue and I repeat my call for rationalisation within the industry, for farmers and processers to come together to form a strong and efficient processing arm which is fully focused on increasing profitability and stability for all.”
Mr Cromie has also called for the EU safety net price to be reviewed and increased to better reflect current milk production costs. He said: “This rate was set when production costs for farmers were much lower and does not accurately reflect the reality of milk production in Northern Ireland today. Increasing this rate would have the clear benefit of providing greater stability within the industry, something which farmers have long called for.”
The Upper Bann MLA added: “The recent spell of bad weather has compounded low milk prices for our local dairy farmers and I believe that now is the time to look to the future of this industry to take steps now, which will lead to a stronger and more profitable future.
“I will be urging DARD to take up the case for the Northern Ireland industry with the EU in relation to reviewing the intervention price for butter and skimmed milk powder for the good of the entire Northern Ireland economy. A strong and stable dairy sector will provide knock-on positive benefits for all elements of the agri-food industry and the wider local economy.
“It is also vitally important that the coalition Government approve the legislation which would establish a Groceries Code Adjudicator. This would have the effect of acting like an ombudsman to ensure that farmers receive fair prices for their produce. The Ulster Unionist Party has led on this issue in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Dobson has also raised concerns that fluctuations in farm prices can lead directly to the increased risk of farm accidents. She said: “Sadly, in recent days we have heard of further farm fatalities. These accidents act as a stark reminder to us all that farming can be a dangerous job. Farmers work long hours, which can lead directly to tiredness and stress and the increased workloads necessary to bridge the gap caused by falling farm gate prices can be linked to a greater risk of accidents.
“This link is one which can have far-reaching and devastating consequences on farming families and one which would be reduced through the instigation of mechanisms to increase both stability and profitability in the sector.”
In conclusion the Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson said: “I believe that there is a bright future ahead for the dairy industry, but this is dependent upon farmers having greater control over their businesses. We must encourage young farmers to return to and remain in the industry, they are the future of this industry, a future which we must begin to prepare for now.”