DUP MEP Diane Dodds recently took the opportunity to meet representatives of the Ulster Farmers’ Union to hear and listen to their concerns around the current issues facing the dairy industry, and explore what can be achieved at a European level.
Commenting after the meeting, Mrs Dodds said: “I welcomed the opportunity to meet UFU representatives to learn their views on the issues facing dairy farmers across Northern Ireland, given the impact depressed dairy markets are having on profitability and cash flow on many farms.
“This is something which I have been lobbying hard on since the autumn, both at Westminster and in Europe. Before Christmas, I was delighted to help facilitate a meeting between UFU President Ian Marshall, David Simpson MP, and the DEFRA Secretary of State, Liz Truss, to highlight the associated issues and call for action to help resolve the situation.
“I, alongside the UFU, feel that the European Commission must be pressed to adjust the rate paid for intervention product as a matter of urgency, in order to put a bottom in the market and most importantly minimise the impact that sustained low prices are having - and will have - on the sector.
“There is clearly a concern not just amongst farmers, but in the wider industry, that the effects of producing below the cost of production will become evident in the next number of months. The fact remains that if you have received your Single Farm Payment, this has been used to pay con-acre bills, the tax bill and any other outstanding commitments, never mind subsidising milk production. In addition to this, as larger bills like fertiliser or contractor costs come in, many will find themselves in an extremely difficult position.
“I do know that many banks are aware of the challenges facing the dairy sector in particular, and have assured me they are taking a long term view at this moment in time - especially around the milk price. I would ask that this same approach is taken to those supporting farmers, including contractors, merchants, vets etc, because they will also feel the pain of cash flow problems on farms.
“Of course, we should not forget to take into consideration the effect weather conditions and buyer confidence has on milk prices. We have witnessed at recent Global Dairy Auctions an increase in overall prices, which some are attributing to drought conditions in New Zealand, and reducing production output, with demand for milk products having remained relevantly firm.
“While we all remain hopeful that this rising trend, even at a low base, continues, the unknown is what will happen this spring in relation to the level of milk production and especially given the abolition of quotas.
“Given this uncertainty, I have requested a meeting with Commission officials, alongside the UFU, to discuss what steps can be taken at an EU level to lessen the impact on farmers if milk price remains below the cost of production.”