Farmers face a 'looming tsunami of insolvency'

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A "looming tsunami of insolvency" facing Northern Ireland's farmers was the subject for debate, on 21 May 2013.

The warning was issued by Ulster Unionist Joanne Dobson who proposed her party's motion on falling farm incomes.

She said there had been a 52% fall in farm incomes in real terms between 2011 and 2012.

"Farmers need our help. They need to look at the Executive to be part of the solution and not part of the problem," the Upper Bann MLA said.

Joe Byrne proposed the SDLP amendment that drew particular attention to restricted bank credit facilities.

He said farmers were having to slaughter animals "to keep the banks at bay".

Paul Frew of the DUP supported the motion and the amendment.

He said it was one thing to talk up the future of agri-food but there was a blind spot regarding a major part of the industry.

Mr Frew said farmers had come to him for help with tears in their eyes.

Sinn Fein's Oliver McMullan said farmers had suffered from a combination of poor weather, rising feed costs and variations in the sterling/euro exchange rate.

He said the agriculture minister had moved to help the farmers and now needed the support of the Assembly.

Kieran McCarthy of Alliance also expressed his concern at falling farm incomes and said it was "imperative that we reverse this trend at the earliest".

Trevor Clarke of the DUP questioned the value of a motion that asked the minister to list the actions she had been taking rather than looking to the future.

He was also concerned that extending bank credit to some farmers who were already experiencing difficulties could drive them out of business.

Agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill said 2012 had been a horrendous year for farmers.

She listed some of the steps she had taken to address these difficulties for farmers, including the hardship fund for those who lost livestock in the snowstorms of March 2013.

The minister paid tribute to those who drew up the strategic action plan for the Northern Ireland agri-food industry and said it represented the future for agriculture.

"It's not just a shiny document to sit on the shelf," she said.

The motion was passed as amended by the SDLP.

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