West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Plight of local farmers raised at Stormont.

Published: 8 October, 2012

Cllrs Pete Kelly and Sean Donnelly met Minister O Neill to press the case for hard pressed farmers.

Cllrs Pete Kelly and Sean Donnelly met Minister O Neill to press the case for hard pressed farmers.

West Tyrone MLA and member of Stormont's DARD committee, Declan Mc Aleer, has welcomed the announcement by Minister Michelle O Neill that she intends to allocate an additional 19 million euros to the farming community by reducing the amount of modulation money taken from Single Farm Payment in 2013.

Speaking during a debate in the chamber which discussed the current farming crisis Mr Mc Aleer said: 'Members who represent rural constituencies will know that for a huge number of families their lives and livelihoods revolve around the farm. It is a way of life and this year has been particularly devastating for the local farming industry. The weather has been atrocious reducing fields to mud tracks, forcing farmers to house their cattle much earlier than usual.

'When housed, the cattle are eating into silage stock, which is already depleted because in many cases the wet weather prevented second and third cuts from being made. The combination of wet weather and drought in the US has resulted in the cost of feed and silage going through the roof.

'Many farmers are therefore forced into selling off or slaughtering many of their stock. Faced with the choice of running out of feed, they have little options.

'For example, a recent Agricultural Market Report, indicates that the delivered price per tonne for wheat was £216 for the week ending 11th August - a staggering increase of 23.8% from the same time last year, when the delivered price was £174.50 per tonne.

'The farmer's plight is made worse by the falling strength of the euro against the pound. Whilst the actual rate is set by the European Central bank and beyond local control, it nevertheless will result in a reduction of approximately 8 % in the SFP awarded to already under pressure farmers. Overall, this is a £20m shortfall in the SFP from last year.

'On top of this, farmers are faced with very poor farm gates prices. In terms of dairy farmers, they are regularly forced to accept a price for milk which is actually lower than its production cost, while the huge supermarket chains can make a profit margin of 250 % on the very same produce.

'The innovative initiative taken by the UFU during the summer was a stark reminder of what farmers are paid for their hours of hard toil - 22p per litre of milk, 42p for a pack of 10 bacon rashers and a whole chicken for just £1.19.

'This was a very effective illustration of just how little farmers receive for their produce and was a very commendable exercise by the UFU as all profits were donated to the NI Cancer fund for Children.

'Farming communities are also angered by the fact that their counterparts across the water are earning in the region of £3.45 per kilo, while here they receive just over £3 per kilo.

'I welcome the fact that the Minister to date has been working closely with the industry and in recent times, along with Minister Foster set up the agrifood strategy board which has established a Red Meat Sub-Group to develop a strategic plan for the red meat sector to help make the industry more profitable and sustainable.

'I also note and welcome the fact that she regularly engages with rural stakeholders - for example earlier this afternoon the Minister met a delegation of rural Cllrs from Omagh District Council who came here to highlight their concerns about the many issues affecting the farming community.

'Through the Department (CAFRE and AFBI) the Minister has also highlighted the importance of education, training, technical support and research to help improve efficiency and competitiveness.

'In conclusion, farming is our indigenous industry; it is the backbone of rural communities. Farmers are currently experiencing a crisis largely due to extreme weather conditions and the global economy and I support the call for initiatives to help alleviate the pressures on farmers at this very challenging time.

The plight of local farmers was high on the Stormont agenda as the Ministers announcement was preceded by a meeting with a delegation from Omagh District Council who came to press the case for farmers in the district.

Two of those who took part in the wide ranging discussion were Cllrs Pete Kelly and Sean Donnelly. Speaking after their meeting with the Minister, Cllr Donnelly said:

'We took the opportunity at Stormont today to bring to the attention of the Minister many issues that are affecting the viability of farming during this current crisis. We discussed topics such as the devastating impact that the recent wet weather has had on our ability to produce silage and fodder for the winter and we also discussed issues around the poor farm gate prices that farmers receive for their produce.

Cllr Kelly said 'We also raised the issue of how the delays in Single Farm Payments for some farmers was making the situation more difficult and this was compounded by the weakness of the euro against the pound causing a reduction of about 8% in payment to local farmers this year.

'We felt that the Minister was in listening mode and in fairness to her she proved this in her announcement to reduce voluntary modulation and put 19 million in the pockets of farmers to help them through this crisis'.