North Antrim MP Ian Paisley spoke in a dairy industry debate in Westminster this week and encouraged the government to increase their efforts to support our local producers.
Speaking on Wednesday Mr Paisley raised the issues of how Northern Ireland dairy farmers face even more difficulties than the rest of the UK in what is already a struggling market.
“We are pressed with cheap imports from our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, who very aggressively sell their milk in Northern Ireland but then very aggressively oppose the sale of our milk in the republic. That’s something that needs to be looked at very strongly by the government. “
The Northern Ireland dairy farming industry is made of almost 3500 farms, with some 2000 people farming nearly 300,000 cows.
“In my constituency we have one of the largest bottling plants in the UK as well United Dairies, one of the most successful farming co-operatives. Dairy farming is a back bone of North Antrim in terms of jobs and the local economy and it is very important that it is supported.”
The price of milk had fallen to 27p per litre, less than the cost of production and is simply unsustainable. There is a significant lack of transparency between the retailer, the processor and the farmer and how prices are set appears to be a real grey area from the farmers perspective. I believe that this will continue to remain the case until more stringent measures are put in place to monitor how these prices are set. Is undoubtedly a significant hidden profit there which the farmer is entitled to a share of, but with regulations as they are, he is prevented from doing so yet the processor continues to prosper.
I am asking this government to be more stringent on how prices are set and I am asking them to place restrictions on our supermarkets, who so often use meat and dairy products as their ‘frontline’ when engaged in a price war with any given rival.
The Northern Ireland dairy industry currently exports 85% of its produce and are particularly worse off in terms of the price they can get for their produce than the rest of the UK. Indeed this very month our farmers are predicted to earn 5p per litre less than their mainland colleagues and these sorts of margins really can be the difference between whether our farmers keep their heads above water or not.
I believe it very important that the government consider the proposal of a tax break for Northern Ireland farmers in order to counteract this shortfall in profits, certainly until a longer term solution can be devised and implemented.
I do however believe that it is the responsibility of the entire industry, starting with the government and filtering down through all UK consumers, in particular our supermarket heavyweights, to educate the consumer. It is a fact that the consumer has got to be educated that if they want to eat clean, green, traceable, local produce they are going to be paying more for it. It is a fact, and we’ve got to have all sectors of the industry supporting that fact. Educating the consumer that if they want to fill their basket with local produce, it is going to cost more. We need to get away from this perception that we can have cheap mass quantities of foodstuffs, it will be food ‘like’ stuffs, but it is not the same, and we’ve got to be very clear about that. That is a difficult matter to sell to the public, particularly in times of austerity but I think it is something that we do need to address.
There must be pressure put on people to buy red tractor-marked, local goods. This can only be achieved with government support. They must aggressively encourage the sale of those goods and they can take that right to the line. Many European countries break the rules without a second thought when it comes to selling their local products. I want to see our government bending that line and being as pro-active as they possibly can to ensure that as many British products are being sold to British people as possible.