‘Minister refuses to deal with plight of farmers’ – Ritchie

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Friday, September 21st, 2012
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has condemned the Minister for Agriculture for refusing to actively acknowledge the plight of many farmers over the last few months due to the persistent bad weather conditions. Speaking to Newry Times, Ritchie blasted, “Following representations to the Minister for DARD where I requested that she give consideration to the introduction of bad weather payments to farmers incurring additional financial pressures brought about by the recent bad weather, the Minister has refused yet again to acknowledge the challenges and plight of farmers throughout Northern Ireland. “The Minister also suggests that any potential for compensation funding is constrained by business case requirements and compliance with restrictive EU State Aid rules.   Why is the Minister not actively challenging these EU State Aid rules? Why is she not pursuing Brussels – Parliament and the Commission to persuade them to change these rules in order to assist the local farming community?” Ritchie continued, “The Minister only offers sympathy to farmers; tells them to contact their local CAFRE advisor for assistance, and informs me that the Department has commissioned research into additional measures that farmers can take to mitigate risk associated with extreme weather events and that the findings of this research will be disseminated to farmers through CAFRE when it becomes available.” “This is simply not good enough; ignores the fact that many farmers have faced some of the worst weather conditions in years; found it extremely difficult to harvest their crops; will face higher costs for feedstuffs for animals; and will have to winter their animals much earlier than in previous years. “Absolutely no cognisance has been taken of the fact that the situation for farmers has been compounded by the shortage of feed from the United States of America and Russia due to drought conditions. Additionally, the Minister seems oblivious to the fact that farmers are now facing poor prices at the farm gate for their produce.” She added, “I have asked the Minister to take dual action in relation to farmers – she must make a case to the NI Executive for an “one off” Hardship Payment Scheme following the exceptional bad weather of this year, and must make a strong case to the European Commission and European Parliament to have EU State Aid rules changed. “I will be raising this issue directly at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the House of Commons”.
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