Dairy farmers in County Armagh, in common with their counterparts throughout the British Isles, are in dire straits with the slump in milk prices.
It doesn’t require a degree in accountancy to realise that, when the cost of production is higher than the price-per-litre in the supermarkets, bankruptcy could be the end result.
It’s such a far cry from a year ago when demand outstripped supply. Milk and its by-products attracted prices that added up to a decent profit at source. Farmers were told to invest and produce more. But in the meantime, international problems with the likes of Russia and China created a glut and the prices bombed.
Only the supermarkets moguls are smiling, with the farmers’ loss being their gain.
Much talk – especially among politicians – is being created over the farmers’ plight. They’re asking Europe to step up intervention in the interim, and suggesting that supermarkets (who are creaming off the profits) should pay a few pence more while the crisis lasts.
Europe is the better bet, for the record of the supermarkets in bailing out their suppliers does not stand up to close scrutiny. Where there is a glut of vegetables, they will step in with lower offers. Where there is over-production of meat, eggs, fruit, whatever, they will take advantage, whatever the consequences to the suppliers.
All this is from organisations whose demands on quality and uniformity are almost risible. The produce must be of a uniform size, presented in properly-designed containers, and as cheap as possible - so that they will catch the customer’s eye and boost profits and share prices.
Well-upholstered directors, in well-upholstered boardrooms, reap the benefit while the farmer community is “clabber to the knees” as they toil and reap and lose out.
It isn’t just agriculture. Big business expects the bottom line to be right, while the level of service deteriorates. The aforementioned supermarkets, for example, have installed technology where the customers are encouraged to perform their own check-out, thus creating more redundancies and more profits.
The banking world is another prime example where the motto is ‘do-it-yourself’. Branches have been centralised, with person-to-person service almost obsolete, as customers struggle with the latest keyboard trickery, or are told to bank on-line.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (Ulster Bank’s parent company) sums up this attitude by being bailed out with Government £billions. The taxpayer is still losing as the shares are being sold back at a reduced rate – they were bought at £5 each and offered back at £3.50.
The initial loss to the public is a reported £1billion - and couldn’t the farmers be doing with that sort of investment to keep them afloat.
The best bet – and urgently – is for all politicians to unite, from the councils to Stormont to Westminster and to Europe, and prevent these pillars of society (the farmers) from going under, many having worked their farms for four or five generations.
Intervention from Brussels could stem the flow, and give hard-working rural folk the help and support they deserve. The idle rich, who inhabit the boardrooms and know all the financial moves, have milked the system for too long.