The dairy sector in Northern Ireland continues to feel the impact of a 30% fall in milk prices, according to Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Latest data shows the Northern Ireland average milk price for November was 24.14p/L, a decrease of 1.09p/L (4.3%) compared with October. The November price is 10.58p/L (30.5%) lower than the previous year

The Minster revealed that she has written again to the DEFRA Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss, to ask her to press for EU support for the north’s dairy industry at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

Minister O’Neill also revealed that she is eager to see the EU review its current intervention price.

“I have raised this very concerning issue with the DEFRA Secretary of State before and I will continue to do so. The price being paid to our farmers for milk ex-farm continues to fall resulting in increasing difficulties on many farms.

“In fact, prices have now dropped by over 30% primarily because our dairy industry, unlike that in Britain, is heavily reliant on export markets.”

Minister O’Neill said that she has informed Minister Truss that there is a greater need than ever to examine the intervention system and assess whether it adequately fulfils the role of providing an effective safety net.

“I agree with the recommendation in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report on Dairy Prices that DEFRA should seek a commitment from Commissioner Hogan that the current intervention price of around 17p per litre be reviewed before the ending of milk quota arrangements.”

The Minister said she was seeking a face-to-face meeting with the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan to press for more EU support for the dairy sector in the north of Ireland.

The Minister last month, I held a meeting with the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the six local banks to identify ways to support the sector.

“I was heartened by the banks’ reassurance that they remain determined to support the dairy industry and by their commitment to pro-active engagement with their customers individually to ensure they received the appropriate assistance.

“I intend to write to each of the banks to seek an update on the actions taken,” she said.

However the Minister urged farmers who are concerned about their businesses to seek advice and support at the earliest opportunity.

“My message to farmers is clear: plan carefully looking at herd performance, costs of production and financial repayments. If difficulties arise, please seek advice as early as possible.

“CAFRE Dairy Development Advisers have been circulating relevant information on managing cash flow and we have been liaising with the UFU who have been encouraging good financial discipline on farms.

“CAFRE has also provided a technical update to a number of the banks on the dairy situation and it is planning a round of technical seminars for farmers.”