‘It’s time for a unified approach’

28 March 2014: Members of the UK farm unions meet for talks at UFU headquarters in Belfast. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
28 March 2014: Members of the UK farm unions meet for talks at UFU headquarters in Belfast. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall has called on all the farmer groupings within the dairy sector to join forces and present a united front, in order to get the best possible support deal for the industry.

Speaking at this week’s dairy summit, hosted by the union, he indicated that the time for farmers taking to the streets is over.

“The union never signed up to the principle of public protest. I admit that the first series of demonstrations served to highlight public awareness of the problems facing the dairy sector. There is little doubt that consumers want to pay a fair price for the milk they buy in the shops.

“But the last thing we want to do now is rub the general public up the wrong way. And there is a distinct danger that further protests will have this affect.

“The dairy industry must join forces and present a unified argument to the powers-that-be in Brussels.”

Farmers attending the summit were told by Dairy UK’s Trevor Lockhart that farm gate milk prices may continue to fall for the next two months, and possibly beyond.

“The world is producing more milk now than was the case 12 months ago,” he said.

“The problems of over supply are being added to by the current ban on EU food imports into Russia, the relative strength of Sterling against the Euro and the slowdown in the Chinese economy.

“In normal times Russia accounts for one third of all EU cheese exports. Add in the fact that China has halved the volumes of whole milk powder that it imports year-on-year and it’s easy to work out why international milk commodity prices have weakened so dramatically in 2015.”

Lockhart admitted that the world’s dairy markets had rebounded to some extent over the past number of weeks.

“But this is from a very low base,” he said.

“The reality is that the fourth quarter of 2015 will be a very difficult period for the dairy industry in Northern Ireland.”