Dairy dilemma

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The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has warned that the crisis in the dairy industry is Europe-wide, and not just a problem in Northern Ireland.

Speaking after a meeting in Latvia of the umbrella bodies for European Farm Unions and cooperatives, COPA-COGECA, UFU Deputy President, Barclay Bell, said it was clear from all the countries involved that there was growing concern there were no signs of a boost in milk prices.

This means the current downturn has lasted over a year prompting calls for the European Commission to alter its stance that there is no crisis in the EU dairy industry.

This week, dairy representatives from the UFU and Irish Farmers’ Association also met to discuss the continuing problems in the sector on both sides of the border.

There was agreement that the present loss making situation for farmers was not sustainable - with the situation made worse in Northern Ireland because of the impact on exports of the strength of sterling against the euro.

There were also concerns that milk output across Ireland is continuing to increase in the face of a global market weakened by poor southern hemisphere prices, cautious buying by China and the impact of the Russian import ban on EU cheese exports.

It emerged this week that milk production increased in Northern Ireland after the seasonal peak was passed at the start of May. Production dropped then, but rose again later in the month when cows were housed because of poor weather. As a result of this double peak, production topped 7.2 million litres – close to the highest daily production ever recorded in Northern Ireland.

Commenting after the meetings of COPA and with the IFA the UFU’s Deputy President, Barclay Bell, said it was little comfort to know that we clearly were not alone in facing a crisis in our dairy sector. “The big worry’, he said, “is that the European Commission is continuing to stick to its stance that there is no need for a fresh look at support measures.

“With no obvious end in sight to the price downturn this position of doing nothing about the continued low prices is simply not sustainable.”

Meanwhile, Co Down dairy farmer and former UFU milk committee chairman William Cromie is calling for the introduction of fixed price supply contracts, as a way of putting a bottom in the market for producers.

“United Dairy Farmers proposed contracts covering 20% of producers’ projected milk supply some time ago,” he said.

“In reality, this figure should be in the region of 80%. Farmers are haemorrhaging money at the present time. And something must be done to put their businesses on a more sustainable footing.”

Mr Cromie also believes that steps must be taken to put in place a supermarket ombudsman so as to ensure that farmers get a more realistic proportion of the monies coming into the food sector at the retail level.

“And this person must be given real powers, so as to ensure that total transparency becomes the norm within the entire agri food chain,” he stressed.