Commissioner outlines priorities to Irish Farmers

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan gave the keynote address at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) last week.

During the speech, the Commissioner discussed the challenges of volatile energy prices, input prices and exchange rates but said that despite global pressures ‘Europe has become the largest exporter of agricultural produce in the world – a stunning achievement’.

The Commissioner reiterated his commitment to reforming the food supply chain and continued the plea for all members of the chain to get a fair return. He highlighted that downstream businesses would not exist without producers and the importance therefore of farmers getting a decent return from the market. He promised to raise the issue of high fertiliser prices with the Commissioner for Competition and would stress the importance of input costs reducing in line with the general fall in energy prices.

On dairy, Mr Hogan appealed to his audience ‘not to talk ourselves into a crisis’ saying that ‘it is hard to find a sector with more promising prospects’. He added that price declines and volatility will be a short term issue.

Quality, high value EU production was mentioned on various occasions in the speech with the Commissioner reiterating that high EU standards provided an edge over other big exporters such as the US. He vowed that these standards and traceability on farm would not be compromised to achieve a trade deal with the US.

Latvians take up European reins

The Presidency of the European Council formally passed to Latvia last week, after the conclusion of Italy’s six months in charge.

Presenting their list of Presidency priorities, Latvia confirmed that progress on agricultural legislation was a high priority. It will focus on competitiveness, ensuring that EU legislation delivers optimum growth. Specifically on agriculture, the Presidency will look to ‘simplifying’ the CAP as well as brokering agreement on the animal and plant health rule reform, known as the ‘5 part package’.

Latvia is also determined to make progress on the organics file. At the end of the Italian presidency, Member States were warned by the Commission that they had six months to reach an agreement or the file would be scrapped. Commission sources last week confirmed that Member States needed to show a real commitment to reaching a deal on the legislation within the Latvian Presidency or the controversial legislation would be abandoned altogether.

Finally, the Latvians will also steer the European Union through the lifting of long-running milk production quotas at the end of March. With the Russian ban on EU agricultural products weighing on the sector, several Member States continue to call for extra support for the EU dairy sector.

EU Milk Market

The Commission has published its December Milk Market Situation report which highlights that European average farm gate milk price decreased in October 2014 by 3.2% to 35.2 c/kg which is 11% lower than in October 2013 and 162% of the virtual intervention price. Since the Russian import ban in August 2014 average dairy product prices have decreased by: -30% for skimmed milk powder, -21% for whole milk powder, -15% for cheddar cheese, -13% for butter.

Overall EU exports in the first ten months of 2014 outpaced last year’s level for most dairy products, with the exception of cheese and whey powder which decreased by 7.4% and 2.8% respectively. China remains the main driver in global trade, increasing imports for all the main dairy products but there have been clear signals of deceleration, particularly with regards to milk powders and butter.

Parliament set to green-light GM deal

The European Parliament will this week vote on a deal giving individual countries the right to ban the growing of genetically modified crops, ignoring advice from the European Food Safety Authority. After protracted negotiations, a deal was agreed in December permitting Member States to ban the cultivation of GM crops for a variety of reasons including protecting certain landscapes and habitats. If approved, the new rules include a process where national governments will need to discuss any potential ban with the biotech company promoting the product. However, if such talks do not prove successful, the Member States will still have the power to prohibit growing the crop. Member States will also be able to ban ‘groups’ of GMOs, rather than dealing with them on a case-by-case basis. If approved by MEPs, the legislation will take effect later this year.