Dairy farmers promise nightly protests

Dairy Farmers protest at Stormont in Belfast last Thursday. 'Pic Colm Lenagham/Pacemaker
Dairy Farmers protest at Stormont in Belfast last Thursday. 'Pic Colm Lenagham/Pacemaker

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall last night said the milk crisis being experienced in Northern Ireland “is now affecting large chunks of Europe”.

Dairy farmers have vowed to continue with “at least one protest every night this week” at supermarkets around the Province.

As the crisis over milk prices deepens, one farmer told the News Letter the “protests which are arranged by text message to avoid police detection” will continue until the big grocers stop using milk as a loss leader.

Last week dairy farmers calling for government intervention to end the crisis gripping their industry staged protests outside different Northern Ireland supermarkets.

Co Armagh dairy farmer Johnny Matthews, 25, said farmers run the risk of being driven into ill health “with having to do more on the farm themselves to keep costs down”.

“People say to stop milking three times a day but I need that milk in my tank to keep the big wheel turning as they say,” he said.

“I know another man milking 600 cows three times a day and he has cut his labour down to three and they are working around the clock too.”

Mr Matthews, from Donaghcloney, added that it has got to the stage where “farmers are selling off their cows to get money”.

“Abattoirs are filling up with animals to get money to keep the farm running for some men,” he said.

“That is the situation we are in. Animals are being killed to create cash.

“But in the long term this is not sustainable. We need help from the Northern Ireland Executive to get through this.”

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Mr Matthews added: “And yes we will go with tractors and tankers to block off supermarkets but all the public sees is our machinery.

“The tractors we drive are needed to do the jobs we do. We need the machinery to be as economical as we can be for there is no point having machinery that won’t do the job or cost £700 a month in breakdowns. You need one with warranty and one that starts.”

Fellow dairy farmer Derek Walker, 33, said the loss of income for dairy farmers “will have a knock-on effect for the economy”.

“I am aware of farmers selling off animals and trying to sell land to make ends meet - but that is a short term stop gap,” the Omagh farmer said.

“A lot of young men have reinvested to push the business forward. They have young families and a lot of overheads putting great pressure on their shoulders.

“I know of a couple of young farmers in Co Down who have been forced to feed their families out of foodbanks because they spent so much on upgrading their farms. They haven’t done anything they were not asked to do.

“The Department of Agriculture would need to step up to the plate for men’s health alone because of the pressure we are all under.

“This is not fair. We just want a fair price for what we are producing and the hours we work. We want to provide for our families and be comfortable. We are not asking to be millionaires, just a fair slice of the cake.”

On Friday, as Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill welcomed the latest figures showing an improvement in the performance of the local food and drinks processing sector, up to 60 milk producers blockaded the Asda store in Strabane, Co Tyrone, to protest at low milk prices in supermarkets they claim are helping to put them out of business.

Police were called and directed traffic away from the demonstrators.

And on Thursday around 200 farmers protested at supermarkets in Coleraine and turned away a milk lorry.

Last night DUP MLA Sydney Anderson, a member of the Stormont agriculture and rural development committee, said “over the last year dairy farmers have seen their incomes drop by over one-third”.

“We must continue to press the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to increase intervention prices for dairy products as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“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.

“MPs, MLAs, MEPs and society as a whole must stand shoulder to shoulder with our dairy farmers as we fight to see a real resolution to this current crisis.”

He added that “over the last number of years the dairy industry has witnessed significant fluctuation in prices, however the decline this time has been extremely long and hard-hitting for farmers”.

“We are in a situation now where our farmers are struggling to make a living for themselves and their families and this is simply unacceptable,” he added.