EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has written formally to his counterpart in the Competition directorate – Alexander Italianer – expressing deep anxiety that fertiliser prices have not dropped in line with the recent falls on international oil markets.

“Oil prices have dropped by 46% over the past number of months, yet we have not seen any comparable trends impacting where on EU and international fertiliser markets. In fact, fertiliser prices actually rose prior to Christmas,” Hogan said.

“My concern is that we could be looking at another 2004 scenario, when fertiliser manufacturers were fined by the EU Commission for operating a cartel.”

Hogan was speaking at a press conference in Belfast earlier today. He went on to point out that he could not officially lodge a complaint with the EU’s competition directorate on this matter.

“But an organisation such as the IFA could,” he said.

“The starting point is the gathering of hard evidence to the effect that fertiliser prices have been insulated from market forces over recent months. Once this step has been taken, I will be more than happy to bring to bear whatever influence that I can on the matter.

“There is an inextricable link between oil prices and fertiliser manufacturing costs. If one goes down, so should the other. Given current circumstances the fertiliser companies must be pressurised to explain what is actually happening within their marketplace at the present time.

“Farmers must be given every opportunity to develop sustainable businesses for the future. This means they must get realistic returns for the produce they bring to market and have access to inputs at realistic prices.”

He said that he has already made it clear that he is prepared to introduce legislation next year, paving the way for the appointment of an EU supermarket ombudsman. This will help ensure that primary producers get a realistic slice of the cake when it comes to the farmgate returns they receive,  he said.

“However, I have no control over the operation of the fertiliser market, which is why I have written to DG Competition on this fundamentally important matter.”