A special case must be made for the dairy sector

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Efforts to have some form of relief made available to local milk producers have, as yet, fallen on deaf ears in Brussels.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan told members of the European Parliament earlier this week that he was still not of a mind to change either the intervention or aids to private storage systems in ways that would deliver better on-farm prices for milk producers. He remains firmly of the view that there is no crisis unfolding within the dairy sector at the present time.

But of even greater concern is the potential impact of the current downturn in the Chinese economy. Any development that reduces the standard of living in that country puts off the day when food buyers in China will re-enter international food markets in any meaningful way.

And, of course, the Russian EU food import debacle continues to rumble on with all the implications this has for Europe’s agri food sectors – milk producers in particular.

All that local dairy farmers want is a fair price for their milk – and 20 pence per litre or, possibly, lower – just doesn’t cut it in this regard.

Dairy is the only sector within local agriculture that is heavily reliant on international markets. All the others – including beef, pork and lamb – trade with either the rest of the UK or the EU in that more general sense.

In reality, a special case can be made for the milk industry at the present time, particularly in the wake of the ongoing impasse between Brussels and Moscow. And, in all truth, agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill must make this point to Phil Hogan in the clearest possible terms. And the clock is ticking. At the end of this month the entire EU machine will revert to full holiday mode. Unless Hogan agrees to some form of relief measures for dairy over the coming fortnight, it could well be the autumn before the matter can be actively addressed in Brussels. In the meantime, losses of a more than considerable nature will continue to mount on dairy farms here in Northern Ireland.