Ulster Unionist Party Agriculture Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, has said unless the DARD Minister strengthens her efforts to assist local dairy farmers, the financial crisis facing the industry in Northern Ireland will worsen.
The Upper Bann MLA said:
“This latest crisis in our dairy sector has not come without warning; it has come as a result of a wide range of factors, not least progressively falling farmgate prices and the continuing effect of the ban of exports to Russia. This crisis is just the latest in a whole series of episodes when market volatility and poor prices have had a devastating impact on local farmers.
“Dairy farmers right across Northern Ireland are now facing severe financial pressure – they simply cannot continue to sell milk at well below production costs indefinitely. The number of farmers who attended the protest at Stormont on Thursday was indicative of the pain being felt by the wider sector.
“The Minister’s evidence at the emergency Committee meeting did little to inspire local farmers. In fact, she appears to have been taken by surprise by this latest milk crisis. Her only response to the problem was to call for further discussions and further strategies.
“I note in the course of the meeting the Minister acknowledged that the current Going for Growth strategy is no longer working for farmers, primarily because they are no longer at the core of it. Worryingly the strategy was the Minister’s only objective up until the start of the meeting so now we must wait to see if she is prepared to actually intensify her direct support for local farmers and their families.
“The Minister must immediately work with Europe to support our dairy sector, including reviewing the current intervention prices to reflect actual production costs. A specific source of anger for the local farming community I raised with her was that she will soon be spending millions on a totally unnecessary new headquarters in Ballykelly. Unless she gets her act together it will be nothing more than a white elephant presiding over a vanishing industry.
“Now is the time for action, not discussions.”