Farming families and rural merchants and traders in Northern Ireland by and large have hit the financial buffers. The convenor of NI Farm Groups, William Taylor (right), who farms in Coleraine, writes:
Farmers find themselves in the position where the sale price for the majority of commodities they produce does not even cover the input costs. Banks are finding it increasing difficult to justify lending money to increasingly non-profitable farmers, instead rural merchants, vets etc are being forced into the position of secondary bankers to many farmers. 1 in 4 UK family farms are living below the poverty line (2012 figures) – all in all a disastrous situation with no future is now with us.
Meanwhile, large corporate food wholesalers, large corporate food retailers and, to a lesser extent, co-op and corporate large food processors, continue to maintain their enormous unsustainable profits.
No need for consumers to pay more, instead farmers want their fair share of current corporate food sector profits
Rural NI must have its share of the financial food cake. Northern Ireland Farm Groups currently including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), Farmers For Action (FFA) and National Beef Association (NBA) would make it clear that there is no need for consumers to pay more other than normal inflationary increases, instead we want our fair share of the money, currently going into the corporate food sector profits and it will take legislation to obtain it.
Currently individual family farmers are too weak in the market place to command a decent price for their produce and unfortunately to date, even with attempts by farm organisations across Europe, it has been impossible to bring farmers together in sufficient numbers and strength to overcome the power and influence of the corporates. They know this and abuse the fact every hour of every day to their profitable advantage. Indeed, the EU has admitted publicly that:
- food security is now top of the agenda
- this is about agriculture not just any old industry and
- farmers need a safety net – Westminster pay attention!
When Northern Ireland’s government returns, it will have no choice but provide that safety net for Northern Ireland’s family farmers, if NI Plc is to succeed in lieu of the deficit from Westminster and Brussels.
The Groups’ proposal is timely in that for Northern Ireland the Brexit Flux and whatever outcome, cannot and will not succeed without profitable farmers in NI. So what is the Groups proposal? Quite simple, almost exactly the same as that submitted by Fairness for Farmers in Europe as a stakeholder to the 2010/11 CAP review: that of NI legislation being passed, stating that NI farmers must be paid a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked for their produce. If the ‘free’ market moves up then fine, the farmer will get the benefit, however, when it falls the legislation is there to provide the safety net limit.
Where is the evidence for the success of this proposal?
There is that age old saying, “When the farmer is doing well then everyone else is doing well” but sounder evidence is the fact that during the 30’s depression in the US, President Roosevelt could not get the US economy to move until he put money in farmers pockets. NI farmers with money in their pockets would purchase products and services from an average of 123 different types of businesses from plastics, to machinery, to veterinary to accountants, to oil and lubricant suppliers, to building supplies, the list goes on. Indeed there are only two types of wealthy countries in the world or a combination of both, ie those who are energy rich (ie oil and gas) or those with a good agricultural base, Zimbabwe a disastrous case in point.
How would legislation on NI farm gate prices work?
In recent years the Livestock and Meat Commission employed McKinsey’s International Consultants to professionally work out the cost of production including money for re-investment of beef and lamb production in Northern Ireland. McKinsey’s did so very successfully by gleaning the information from the top beef and sheep farmers across NI. They were totally independent of processor or retailer or even farmer influence, all of these factors a must. These results could easily be done for all the food related commodities produced by NI farmers and adjusted for inflation or deflation every 6 months.
On a European scale this proposal would require flexible supply control, ie quotas, on all commodities but quotas without value. However, in NI because we are small in comparison to the whole of the EU influence this would not be required. The results of such legislation would in fact have a useful quota effect in itself. It would create balance in the countryside creating good change in farming practices including:
- A reduction in available conacre as owners decide farming is now a profitable option and farm their land themselves
- One sector for example could not expand over and above any other sector, due to lack of land because the balanced requirement for land would come from all commodity sectors
- Pressure on land would once again help farmers to increase good farming practices and invest in new technology and good farming methods such as instead of cutting and spraying rushes, lime would be applied due to money available; hedges would be brought under control, fences would be mended and replaced, drainage would be carried out. All this in harmony with nature as profitable farmers can easily produce more food in Northern Ireland whilst abiding by commonsense environmental laws.
- d) There would be a certain amount of musical chairs of farming practices. In recent years many farmers moved into dairying or chickens because of the then perceived regular income which has since been eroded, many farmers may be perhaps beef, vegetables or other minded, they would therefore switch enterprise due to profitable options, thereby creating a balanced agriculture in NI.
It would in effect be a new dawn in NI agriculture, a land mark where farmers could afford to embrace new technology, to repair their sheds or build new more efficient ones, they could afford to purchase much needed new efficient safety equipment, they could afford to pay staff, to cut the current slavery hours currently being worked by farming families and their staff.
In fact the Groups can confirm that if this legislation is introduced it could create a minimum of 10,000-20,000 new professional on-farm jobs followed by approximately four times the number of related jobs. Without exception, every farmer we have put the question to – ‘If legislation was in place to provide you with a minimum of the cost of production inflation linked plus a margin for your produce would you employ another member of staff or members of staff, the answer is always a loud – of course I would!’
Furthermore, approximately 60% of NI farmers are part time – many of those would go full time if agriculture was profitable thereby creating a vacancy for others – by now you will have got the scale of this proposal for Northern Ireland.
The legislation must go through on a welfare issue, for the sake of protecting farming families from corporate ravages for endless profit.
Due to the current rural financial crisis and after the experience of 2012’s wet Spring, 2017’s wet year and 2018’s extreme dry year, where many NI farmers were faced with extreme weather conditions and no spare money in their pockets, many being currently unable to feed their families, a welfare precedent was established: an ongoing increase in calls to farm crisis centres by farmers at the end of their tethers with corporates growing fatter by the day while rural NI has been drained dry of finance and resources.
Precedents are already being set with regard to the EU “free market”:
- by the Scottish Government on minimum priced alcohol in supermarkets proposal on a welfare issue
- by the Welsh Government’s success in already implementing this legislation
- and for the second time in recent years the EU’s intervention in the free market by capping EU roaming charges by mobile phone companies.
In short on the plus side if Stormont were to legislate on NI farmgate prices as proposed by the NI Farm Groups, then virtually overnight a minimum of 10-20,000 initial jobs plus would be created and over the next 5 years there would follow an additional x4 multiplier of jobs. Every job on the farm in addition to the 15,000 processing industry jobs the Agri Food Sector would increase to almost 100,000 NI jobs minimum – an exceptional result which would allow NI Plc to firmly turn the prosperity corner and not look back.
To conclude, the Farm Groups hereby request that Stormont will put forward a Bill for Legislation on Northern Ireland farmgate prices as a matter of urgency under a rural welfare crisis where lives are at stake, stating that a minimum of the cost of production plus a margin inflation linked must be paid at the farm gate for all the food produced in Northern Ireland.
NI family farmers need your help in protecting their incomes from the corporates, just as you need them every meal time!
56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine,
Co L’derry, N Ireland,
Tel/Fax 028 703 43419