Dairy farming battle ‘should now be moved to the political arena’

Farmers hand out free milk as consumers approach the Asda supermarket on Omagh on Wednesday.
Farmers hand out free milk as consumers approach the Asda supermarket on Omagh on Wednesday.

Speaking at the launch of the petition, Mrs Dodds said it was initiated “in response to what in many people’s eyes has been a complete failure by the European Commission to recognise the escalating problems facing farmers in a range of sectors both in Northern Ireland and further afield”.

Picture from Fair Price Farming NI's Facebook page of a protest in Asda Omagh on Wednesday night.'Farmers handed out free milk as consumers approached Asda.

Picture from Fair Price Farming NI's Facebook page of a protest in Asda Omagh on Wednesday night.'Farmers handed out free milk as consumers approached Asda.

She said global factors including overproduction, weak demand from China, and the Russian import ban have contributed to a situation where local dairy farmers in particular are producing milk well below the cost of production.

“The reality is that Europe can help all sectors suffering,” she said. “Commissioner Hogan has the tools to bring meaningful change.”

The call to sign the petition came as dairy farmer Derek Walker, 33, from Omagh, said a group he is involved with – Fair Price Farming NI – hope to have representation at any meeting with Commissioner Hogan.

He said on Wednesday night a group of farmers went to Asda in Omagh “to give out free milk to cars going past and from donations we received £373 which we are giving to the NI Children’s Hospice”.

He added: “Never once did anyone say we were causing havoc or we were a disgrace.”

Mr Walker said “a lot of behind the scenes meetings have been going on this week with our group”.

“We just want to make our point that we need a fair price for the milk we produce,” he added.

“For every litre of milk I produce I am losing about seven pence. My total income is down.

“This time last year I was getting 30 pence a litre and now I am getting 19 pence but my fixed costs are the same as are my bills, so we are losing money hand over fist.”

In a statement, the Ulster Farmers’ Union’s dairy committee said that while supermarket protests by farmers have highlighted the serious concerns facing the industry, tactics now have to switch “to winning the political battle at Stormont, in London and crucially in Brussels”.

UFU president, Ian Marshall said: “There are no simple answers to what farmers are going through – but we will be bringing the industry together, including the banks, to help develop a strategy that will allow farmers to survive what is going to be a very difficult winter for cash flows.”

The UFU president added there was no question that a range of activities, including the protests at supermarkets, had attracted media attention and public support.

But he cautioned: “There was always a fine balance between achieving this and alienating the general public by inconveniencing them.”