Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development have endorsed a report on the dairy sector drafted by Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson.
The report calls on the European Commission to do more to address volatility, help producers secure new export markets and tackle unfair trading practices in the supply chain.
Speaking after the vote Mr Nicholson said it is a crucial time for the EU’s dairy sector.
He added: “The greatest challenge facing our dairy farmers is price volatility. At present markets continue to fall with an oversupply of milk globally and dairy farmers across the EU, especially in Northern Ireland are being hit hard by unsustainably low prices.
“Furthermore there is no end in sight to the Russian trade embargo - in spite of the current situation in the sector and the pain being felt by farmers the Commissioner continues to insist that there is no crisis.
“There is an urgent need for the safety net to reflect current costs of production – the report calls for the intervention price to be reviewed to reflect the reality on the ground. Locally the Euro/Sterling exchange rate and our reliance on exports make the need for the Commission to take this action all the more essential.
“I also want to see the Milk Market Observatory strengthened, to communicate prices and market analysis in real time to help farmers make better business decisions plus play a role in managing volatility. This report also calls on the Commission to address imbalances of power in the supply chain.
“While there are risks and uncertainties the long-term prospects for the industry remain good and I would urge the Commission to help secure new export opportunities for farmers’ produce. We need to become global leaders and not global followers . The EU dairy sector should not be continually looking over its shoulder at what New Zealand and the US are doing.”
Ulster Farmers’ Union dairy committee chairman, Jonathan Moore, has described the endorsement of the draft report as ‘encouraging’ news.
One of the key recommendations is that the European Commission implements more responsive and realistic safety net provisions. Central to this is an intervention price more reflective of the cost of producing milk. “This needs to be adapted as and when the market changes, and it is something the UFU has been pressing for over the past year.” said Mr Moore. Currently, even at the very low price, skimmed milk powder is still 32 Euro per tonne above intervention price levels. The report also urges the European Commission to take the necessary action to ensure that the EU Milk Market Observatory (MMO) meets its full potential. It wants to see the MMO used as a monitoring tool to improve the decision making process at both a European and local level. This also received the backing of MEPs in Strasbourg.
“It is now up to the European Commission to act quickly and to develop some of the measures that this report is calling for,” said Mr Moore. “Farmers across Europe are really struggling with the substantial downturn in farm gate milk prices and the Commission needs to address these issues now and not underestimate the seriousness of the situation facing farmers.”
The report will now be debated by the full European Parliament in July.