The Chief Executive of one of Ireland’s largest dairy co-ops said he believes milk prices in the province have ‘bottomed out’ and the industry will soon be on the road to price recovery.
During a visit to a farm in Limavady owned by Robert and Tom Craig LacPatrick co-op Chief Executive, Gabriel D’Arcy expressed ‘cautious optimism’ that milk prices will start to rise over the next couple of months following what he referred to as a most challenging period for local dairy farmers.
He said: “We understand completely the struggles many dairy farms, especially smaller family-run enterprises, have been facing for some time now with prices well below the cost of production.
“Prices have been influenced by a number of factors, many of which sit within a global context.
“We believe, as a result of a number of recent decisions we have made we are in a strong position to manage the uncertainty of the recent BREXIT decision by the UK as far as it relates to dairy farmers. One important reason for that optimism is the substantial investment we have made at our Artigarvan plant which will act as a risk mitigant for the Ulster dairy sector in the post BREXIT environment.”
However, Mr D’Arcy said the UK Government must now step up to its responsibilities and address several ‘mission critical’ elements for the local dairy industry.
“Firstly, it is absolutely imperative the current European Single Farm Payment is replaced by a UK equivalent,” he said.
“The Single Payment is a vital source of income for local farmers and, for some it has been literally putting bread on the table since the recent downturn in milk prices.
“We need a cast-iron guarantee from those negotiating the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from Europe that farmers will not suffer any losses as a result of the current payment being unavailable in the future.
“Otherwise the family farming model will be seriously undermined.
“It is also essential, for the good of both the NI and RoI economies that we have borders free from people or customs’ controls.”
Mr D’Arcy added, from a Northern Ireland perspective, it was crucial the UK moved quickly to replicate existing trade deals between Europe and The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
“It is vital the existing international trading deals we have with ECOWAS via Europe are replaced by fresh deals between the UK and West Africa as soon as possible after Article 50 is triggered so there is no interruption to the huge volumes of dairy ingredients currently exported there from Ulster dairies.”
Robert and Tom Craig welcomed LacPatrick’s cautious optimism and said: “We are trying to farm in a more sustainable way, protecting and looking after the environment whilst endeavouring to make a living.
“The last 18 months have been very challenging and any financial resources which had been accumulated have now been used up.
“The ambition that Gabriel D’Arcy has expressed for LacPatrick to be competitive is great, and we are glad that he is aware that at the heart of LacPatrick is the high quality supplier milk pool which the company relies on for progression.
“We regard his comments as very encouraging and we now look forward to action to bring back milk prices that return a living wage. The milk price paid within the incoming months will be crucial to our business.”