Dale Farm CEO hits back at UFU claims over refusal to engage on milk prices

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Dale Farm’s Chief Executive has mounted a robust defence after the Ulster Farmers’ Union accused the processor of refusing to engage with the farming union over milk prices paid to suppliers.

Dale Farm Group CEO Nick Whelan, said he was ‘surprised and disappointed by the tone and wording in UFU statements over recent weeks.’

He added: “Far from refusing to engage with that organisation, I made it an early priority to meet UFU leaders and brief them on Dale Farm’s intention to significantly increase the price we can pay to our members over the coming months, as the market delivered.

“Our members are our priority and we will be in a position to further update them at our AGM next week. Our members should learn this information first, thereafter we will communicate more widely as we see fit. We anticipate the UFU will form an important part of that engagement process,” he added.

In a statement released today the Ulster Farmers’ Union described as ‘bizarre’ the decision by Dairy UK (Northern Ireland) to block future engagement with the Ulster Farmers’ Union over its criticism of the failure of processors to pass on better milk market returns to farmers.

UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson, said this confirmed the Union’s criticism that dairy processors did not understand how angry farmers feel after more than 18 months of struggling with prices below the cost of production.

“Farmers are right to demand that processors dig deeper to give them the full benefit of the fall in the value of sterling and improving global markets. If they cannot do so, they need to explain to their members why this is the case and also when they can expect to see price increases. For the organisation that represents processors to respond to criticism by refusing to engage with the body that represents their farmer suppliers is, quite frankly, childish posturing,” said Mr Ferguson.

It is understood Dairy UK (NI) has claimed that the UFU’s criticism of their members was ‘unhelpful and unjustified’.

“I have to tell them we are not there to be helpful to processors. We are there to help farmers, and their action is evidence that processors do not understand the financial pain and angry mood of the farmers that supply the milk that keeps them in business. If Dairy UK (NI) believes our criticism is unjustified that is a different matter, but in a rational business world people debate their differences. They do not simply walk away,” said Mr Ferguson.

He added that in criticising processors the UFU was responding to concerns raised by many dairy farmer members supplying all dairy processors.

The UFU deputy president said Dale Farm had also decided not to engage with the UFU. “That is their choice, but as a farmer owned cooperative, I hope they are aware that many of their members are also members of the UFU. These producers have been pushing for us to take a tougher line – and I would urge them to make clear to Dale Farm that blocking engagement with the organisation that represents farmers is the wrong stance for any cooperative,” said Mr Ferguson.

The UFU has confirmed it will not be attending the milk meeting in Cookstown, arranged to discuss a possible milk strike, but has said the fact that it is happening and also that many producers are considering sending their milk to processors operating in Great Britian is further evidence of the hurt and anger felt by dairy farmers across Northern Ireland.

“Farmers see dairy commodity prices rising, in some cases to record levels, while milk production is falling, yet our dairy farmers are still receiving a base price below the cost of production,” said Mr Ferguson.