Calls for urgent government action to save dairy sector

Appeals for urgent government action to save the dairy industry have been backed by the entire supply chain, including UK farming unions, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), the processing umbrella group Dairy UK and the Provision Trade Federation.

The group, which includes Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Ivor Ferguson, has written to the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) Secretary of State George Eustice to reiterate its support for the proposals put forward by the farming unions to protect dairy farm businesses from irreversible damage.

These include targeted measures for affected farmers, similar to the Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme and a fully funded, government run voluntary national production reduction scheme.

The measures called for also include engagement with the European Union to introduce market support measures, such as Private Storage Aid.

In the letter, they write: “The situation is continuing to escalate rapidly with serious financial consequences for many individual businesses. There are farmers unable to pay their feed companies and having to sell cows. There are dairy companies that, having lost all of their key markets, still have to deal with the milk and find a home for it in an oversupplied marketplace.

“These may have been isolated impacts to start with, but we know that already around a quarter of the dairy industry has been affected within just a matter of weeks.

“It is important to reiterate that only a matter of weeks ago, all of this milk had a good home, and hopefully in a few months’ time, those markets will return. The British dairy sector wants to be there to meet that demand, so it is crucial that the industry is not irreversibly damaged by this crisis.

“We need action now, as well as a more considered response for the medium and longer-term measures. We cannot over-emphasise the urgency of the current situation. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, as government is already demonstrating elsewhere. We believe now is the time to do all we can to ensure the long-term sustainability of the UK dairy sector.”

Commenting on the management of milk supply in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “The UFU are continuing to lobby on all available fronts, including at a national level, with emphasis on keeping the dairy markets functioning and to get support on to farms.  Our long-standing primary focus is a Northern Ireland-specific representation to DAERA highlighting the impact of any market disruption which may arise from the Covid-19 pandemic.”