Farmers call for law on guaranteed prices

Northern Ireland dairy farmers giving out free milk and protesting at City Hall
Northern Ireland dairy farmers giving out free milk and protesting at City Hall

Over 100 farmers protested outside City Hall in Belfast yesterday, calling for a new law which would give them guaranteed prices for their produce from processors.

Organiser William Taylor of Farmers For Action (FFA) said simultaneous protests took place in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium.

Protestors were calling for:

- Milk quotas without values to combat surpluses in production;

- Brussels to buy up milk if farmgate prices drop to 23p per litre instead of 13-14p;

- Retirement packages for dairy farmers funded from an £880m EU levy fund which farmers pay into;

- A new law which would force processors to pay minimum farm gates prices.

“We were there together to support European Milk Board day of action,” said Mr Taylor.

“We want to get the message back to Brussels that the crisis in milk has not gone away.”

The old milk quota system which ended in 2014 controlled production but the new system has led to “a slight surplus” in the global dairy market, he says.

Currently Brussels buys up milk if farmgate prices drop below 13-14p per litre, but FFA wants intervention to begin if prices drop to 23p - current farmgate prices are 17.5p.

Every year farmers pay into the EU levy fund - currently £880m - and FFA is calling for a dairy farmer retirement package funded from this.

“We also want new a law which would make processors pay a minimum price for our produce. This would force producers to ask for more from retailers.”

The protest was supported by Sinn Fein and SDLP MLAs with apologies from the UUP and UKIP, he said.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall responded: “Representing 12,000 members, the UFU says it recognises the problems facing the entire industry, however has no comment to make on these specific suggestions.

“The UFU says it has and will continue to engage with policy-makers in Northern Ireland, London and in Brussels to ensure that the industry returns to profitability and is sustainable in the future.”

DUP MLA and chair of the agriculture committee William Irwin said that, as a dairy farmer, he knows the pressures first hand and is working with stakeholders across the industry to get through the current crisis.

“The DUP would support ‘quotas without values, retirement packages and guaranteed prices for farm produce’ but we must also be realistic about what may be desirable and what is actually achievable, affordable and legal,” he said.

“Difficulties in achieving some of FFA’s goals under current European legislation for example have already been outlined to the group when they gave evidence to the agriculture committee.”