Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland dairy crisis: Farmers protest as Stormont committee meets

Tractors lined along Prince of Wales Avenue leading to Parliament Buildings at Stormont Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Farmers staged a protest in the grounds of Stormont as the agriculture committee met

The Stormont agriculture and rural development committee has held a special meeting to discuss the dairy farming crisis in Northern Ireland.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has called for intervention at European level to tackle the problem.

Dairy farmers have warned they will go out of business if they do not receive higher prices for their milk.

About 200 farmers protested in the grounds of Stormont over dairy prices.

Farmers say what they are getting paid for their milk is well below the cost of producing it.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Farmers are angry about the price they are receiving for their milk and warn they could go out of business

They are losing between 8p and 10p on every litre of milk they produce.

They arrived at Stormont on Thursday to say they needed help quickly.

Drumbo farmer Andrew Reid, who has a herd of 200 dairy cows, said he was losing £3,000 a week.

"You're losing money every single day, it's not a good news story," he said.

"It's not easy to get in to the industry but it's not easy to get out, and if generations have put their entire life into building herds and farms, it's very hard to walk away from it, even when we are losing so much money."

Image caption Dairy farmer Andrew Reid said he was losing £3,000 a week

Richard Lilburn, who milks 220 cows in Moira, County Down, said he was worried he would not have a farm to eventually pass on to his young son, Theo.

"It's been passed on from generation to generation," he said.

"I've seen my father and my grandfather work hard to build the business and I just don't want to see it going down the pan now through no fault of our own."

Farmers want European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to authorise a significant lift in the intervention price - the price at which the authorities will buy milk to support the market.

It is currently about 16p a litre and was set in 2003.

Image caption Farmer Richard Lilburn said his father and grandfather had worked hard to build their dairy farm

Farmers say it needs to be in the 20s if it is to cushion their losses and stop some farmers going out of business.

So far those calls have been resisted.

The committee heard from farmers, the industry, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and the agriculture minister.

The UFU has urged Northern Ireland politicians to lobby the European Commission to help address the crisis.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Michelle O'Neill, the agriculture minister, spoke to farmers at the protest at Stormont

Mrs O'Neill met farmers at the protest and said she was doing what she could to press the EU to drive up the intervention price.

She is set to lead a delegation in the coming weeks to meet Mr Hogan.

"This is a global crisis caused by a range of factors including increased milk production, the Russian ban on imports, reduced demand from important markets such as China and adverse exchange rates," she said.

Farmers required support from their banks during what was a difficult time, she added.

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