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Minister O’Neill urges better co-operation across industry to tackle crisis

12 February, 2016 - by Michelle O'Neill

Consensus across the dairy industry is vital if there is to be a solution to the current crisis facing farmers. 

That was the key message from Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill following a high-level meeting with dairy stakeholders including the UFU, NIGTA, processors, banks and other key representatives to discuss the challenges facing the industry. 

Speaking after the meeting in DARD headquarters in Belfast, she said:

 “It has been a very productive meeting and I am grateful for the contribution from each organisation and business represented. 

“While I welcome the ideas and proposals put forward, there is still more work to be done. I am continuing to press EU Commissioner Phil Hogan to ensure that all available mechanisms at his disposal are effectively deployed to benefit the local dairy sector at this difficult time. Our financial institutions are also key to supporting farmers in managing their immediate cashflow difficulties and I will follow up today’s meeting by communicating with the individual banks and finance companies too.

“Government has a part to play but solutions lie in the hands of industry and can only be achieved successfully if everyone in the dairy supply chain collaborates and works together, with the same vision and an agreed strategy to achieve it. We therefore need consensus to addresses issues such as cash flow on farms and the current over-supply of milk coming from farms.” 

The Minister pointed out that the Agri Food Strategy Board and Supply Chain Forum as industry led structures and mechanisms, have been established to deal with industry challenges and to develop workable solutions. 

She said:

 “This model of industry collaboration has already worked very well to deliver a project on livestock genetics improvement. I encouraged all those represented today to come together within that framework to progress this very important work on behalf of the local dairy sector.”

She said she has asked her officials to work with representatives to establish a dedicated working group under the existing structures, with a specific remit of addressing the issues facing the dairy sector right now.The Minister added: 

“It is important that DARD plays its role and my commitment to supporting our farmers is undiminished. I will continue to lobby on their behalf in Brussels, Dublin and London. I will also continue to work with the banks and finance companies to encourage maximum flexibility. My department has made more than 96% of Basic Payments to date and is working hard to complete the remainder.” 

 She concluded: 

“I will work with political representatives across these islands, and with industry representatives to achieve our long-term goals for the sector. I want everyone to engage in a united way to identify potential solutions and develop strategies that will address the issues we face.”

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