Northern Ireland

Dairy crisis: Milk price fall takes £220m out of Northern Ireland economy

Dairy cows in a milking parlour Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The price farmers are being paid for their milk is currently about 18p a litre

The drop in milk prices has taken £220m out of the Northern Ireland economy this year, it has been claimed.

Pressure on the beef, cereal and vegetable sectors means the total reduction in spending power could be almost double that figure.

The claim was made by the head of a body set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to oversee expansion in the agri-food industry.

Tony O'Neill said the food industry was Northern Ireland's "economic priority".

The chair of the Agri-Food Strategy Board, which was established several years ago, said that in the face of an "unsympathetic" response from Westminster it was up to the assembly to take the lead in pushing for significant EU support to shore up the milk price.

The Ulster Farmers' Union is planning a protest of the agri-food sector at Stormont on Friday.

The Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association called on its members to support the protest.

It said that with a turnover of £4.8bn and employing about 100,000 people, the agri food sector's importance could not be "overstated".

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill, Northern Ireland's MEPs and the chairman of the assembly agriculture committee met the EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan on Tuesday.

Mr Hogan had been resistant to calls for an increase in the so-called intervention price at which the EU buys product to support the market.

There have been some indications in recent days that he may be reviewing that position.

Ms O'Neill said the delegation had emphasised the "unique circumstances" of Northern Ireland's farmers who are heavily reliant on export markets.

The milk price issue will be discussed again at a meeting of EU Agriculture ministers on 7 September.

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