By LOUISE CONVERY
NEARLY 50 farmers took part in a protest outside Asda in Cookstown last week to campaign for fairer milk prices.
The group, Farmers For Action are holding weekly protests to pressure not only Asda but all big food retailers to offer farmers a better price for their products.
According to the group, farmers in Northern Ireland are offered less for their milk than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.
Almost 50 farmers and their family members braved the bad weather at Asda in Cookstown last Thursday and handed out hundreds of leaflets calling on consumers to shop elsewhere until they are given a better deal.
The demonstrations follow the Ulster Farmers’ Union recent farm-gate sale, they are also campaigning for a better deal for farmers after increasing running costs and bad weather affecting crops has left many further out of pocket.
William Taylor FFA NI co-ordinator stated that dairy farmers need 30p per litre immediately as step one, to be followed by a run up to 40p per litre inflation linked, the European Milk Board cost of production figure.
Mr Taylor, a farmer from Coleraine, said cost of production quotes from large retailers, currently around or just under 30p, do not allow any profit for reinvestment.
“No business can run without money for re-investment, most of all, the farming sector, as is all too evident around Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It’s time for the corporate retailers wholesalers and processors to wake up and smell the coffee as their current level of profit taking across the world’s family farmers on virtually all commodities except gain is unsustainable, most of all they should note the sheer anger in rural UK and Ireland as to how they are being treated.
“All they ask is a fair return but it is evident that it will take pressure to obtain fairness.”
The Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has said she supports the concept of fairer pricing for farmers and other suppliers and is pressing for the installation of a Groceries Code Adjudicator by Westminster.
DUP MLA Ian McCrea supported the calls for farmers to receive a fair price for their product.
“Any price reduction on the supermarket shelves are always passed on to farmers, but they rarely see any benefits when prices in the shop increase. Dairy farmers in particular are struggling even to cover their cost of production on current prices,” he said.
“This year, the weather both locally and globally is set to only increase these problems for farmers. Our wet summer has increased the cost of making silage, and many farmers have already had to house cattle, whilst across the world droughts in the USA and elsewhere mean that the price of other feedstuffs is likely to rise dramatically over the winter.
“Northern Ireland farmers produce high quality, traceable food and they deserve to be paid a fair price for this. It is vital that we are able to produce food locally and not be totally dependent upon imports from countries where environmental and welfare standards are far below those here at home.”