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New EU measures 'will be judged on immediate effects'

EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development Phil Hogan has announced a range of measures to aid farmers

EUROPEAN officials have signalled increased support for farmers to help those in crisis.

Among the proposals made by EU farming commissioner Phil Hogan was the doubling of intervention ceilings for skimmed milk power and butter to 218,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes respectively.

He also said he would considered a further private storage aid scheme for pigmeat.

But Stormont agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill said the effectiveness of any increased aid from the EU "will be judged on any real and immediate difference it makes to farmers who are currently struggling to make ends meet".

"I acknowledge that the Commission has today also indicated its willingness to work with the European Investment Bank EIB so that our farmers and processors can access much needed finance for investment to improve the competitiveness of their businesses or make any necessary structural adjustments, and the plans to examine the feasibility of an export credit scheme. We need to see concrete proposals coming forward quickly from EIB so that our industry can avail of additional support as soon as possible," she added.

"In addition, it is essential that the Commission begins to recognise the value of transparency in agricultural markets. We already have a Milk Market Observatory, therefore I support the Commission's intention to establish a new meat market observatory for beef and pigmeat. Extending the market reporting system should help improve market signals.

The Ulster Farmers' Union said it was "encouraged" by parts of the Commission's plans.

However, its president Ian Marshall said a proposed voluntary milk supply reduction scheme was "more smoke and mirrors" than a realistic policy to restore balance in European milk production.

“Along with other farm lobby organisations in Europe we had lobbied for action on intervention. The increase in the volumes of butter and skim milk powder that can be bought in by Brussels will ease some of the pressure – but like others we are disappointed the price hasn't been reviewed,” he said.

But the UFU said it does not believe the short term scheme to allow cooperatives and farmers to negotiate milk supply reductions will prove effective.

"This did not command much support during the negotiations. It is voluntary – and that means reductions by some will be offset by others seeing this as an opportunity to increase production," said Mr Marshall.

"More fundamentally there is no funding for compensation, unless it comes from member states, and that is a remote prospect in the UK."

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