More than 2,000 farmers staged a protest outside the European Commission’s office in Dublin on Monday (31 August).
The farmers dumped a trailer full of grain, as well as herding three pigs and milking a dairy cow in order to raise awareness of falling farm incomes as a result of plummeting prices.
They marched with signs reading: “Farmers demanding EU action on income crisis.”
Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey said immediate action by the EU Commission was needed to resolve the income crisis facing farming, especially in the grain, dairy and pigs sectors.
Mr Downey warned that farmers across a range of enterprises were under severe pressure as political interference in markets, serious price volatility and unregulated retailers combined to decimate farm incomes and undermine the sector.
EU farm ministers are due to attend an emergency farm council meeting on 7 September and Mr Downey said he had left Ireland’s farm minister Simon Coveney in no doubt as to what measures were needed to address the crisis.
“All EU payments will have to be made on time; a 75% advance on the basic payment secured; and, strong funding in October’s budget,” he said.
The IFA president added that Mr Coveney also had to intensify his efforts to get markets open for Irish produce in the US and China.
National dairy chairman Sean O’Leary said dairy farmers had seen their margins come down 92% in the past 16 months.
“We need the EU Commission to fulfil its legal obligation under regulation 1308/2013 and review the intervention ‘reference thresholds’ in light of increased production costs and raise those prices to provide a genuine ‘safety net’ reflecting higher costs,” he said.
“Political decisions created this problem and additional funding has to be found”
Sean O’Leary, IFA
“This would send an immediate and longer term message to global buyers that EU dairy products cannot be bought below cost.
“In addition, before year-end, the EU Commission will have a fund of over €800m (£588m) worth of superlevy fines paid by European over-quota farmers.
“This fund, nearly double what the EU 2016 estimates budgeted, must not be subsumed into the EU overall budget, but be used to support dairy farmers.
“It is not an option to use the crisis reserve as this would impact all farmers’ payments.
“Political decisions created this problem and additional funding has to be found,” he said.
IFA national grain chairman Liam Dunne said the commission had failed to recognise the serious income challenge facing growers.
The association has said the commission must act now to:
- relax greening rules and allow farmers to grow in response to market signals
- introduce intervention for all grains at prices that reflect production costs
- abolish customs duties on non-EU fertiliser imports.
IFA pigs chairman Pat O’Flaherty said pig farmers across Ireland and the EU were in a serious loss-making situation and it was critical that the commission looked to re-open markets, including Russia, for pork products.
There was a similar call on beef, with the IFA president demanding that Mr Coveney took action to remove the technical obstacles holding back exports to new markets in the US and China.
Mr Coveney said he would be pushing hard for the commission to release the superlevey money to help support the dairy sector by raising the threshold prices for butter and skimmed milk powder.