A 100-strong group of protesting barley growers yesterday accused barley grain importers and brokers of destroying their livelihoods by pricing them out of the barley grain market. Around 140 farmers took part in a surprise protest at the importation of dry barley grain from vessels docked at Foynes port, Co Limerick.
The Irish Farmers Association organised the demonstration. Crane operators and hauliers were stood down for a brief period during the five-hour protest but later returned to work feeding haulage trucks on their way to local mills.
Cork barley grower Billy Cotter pledged “war” on those he claimed were forcing him and others out of the marketplace.
“We’re fighting for our livelihoods. If we are to have any chance of surviving, this has to stop,” he said.
Mr Cotter, 52, of Castletownroche, Co Cork, warned that the indigenous cereal sector will close if current trends continue.
Irish growers claimed importers were undercutting them by up to €30 a tonne of barley, supported by Irish buyers.
Mr Cotter, an IFA north Cork county chairman, added: “There are obviously merchants buying it, and we are going to find out where they are, and we are going to put enormous pressure on farmers not to buy from those merchants.
“We are going broke, we are standing up, and, we are going to fight this,” he said.
He said Irish barley growers were seeking a minimum €135 per tonne for green barley grain which, he said, would still see them operating at a loss.
“There will be war if we don’t get it,” he warned.
IFA deputy president, Richard Kennedy, who led the protest which began at 8.30am, accused brokers and importers of “aggravating an already serious income crisis on Irish tillage farms”.
James Hegarty, a 39-year old barley grower, from Whitechurch, Co Cork, said he was “at breaking point”.
A spokesperson for the Irish Grain and Feed Association, the representative body of the grain and feed industry, said they recognised tillage farmers were experiencing “extraordinary, difficult and challenging times”, but they added: “There is absolutely no way we can condone people disrupting unloading of boats and disrupting people’s lives like this. There are other ways of dealing with these problems.”
Meanwhile, a UK grain trader insider, said: “Nobody sets the price of grain except globally and it is demand and supply. Irish farmers are given opportunities to ‘sell forward’, and unfortunately, this year very few took it. I don’t know who would have advised them not to sell, but they do get forward prices.”
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