I have received a number of phone calls over the past couple of days from angry milk producers, incensed at not being eligible for the EU’s Small Dairy Farmer Aid package.
The two points of issue are the 1,000,000L limit for the scheme and the fact that the 2015/16 year was chosen as the reference period.
And I have lots of sympathy for these farmers. Yes, they are the people who have invested most in their businesses over recent years and, yes, they are probably the farmers carrying the highest levels of debt throughout our entire agri sector.
I sense that the scheme was pulled together at very short notice and that organisations, such as the Ulster Farmers’ Union, had very little insight into what was coming down the track, prior to the aid package getting the green light.
For its part, Farming Life has asked DAERA why the 1,000,00L threshold was introduced. But, it’s also up to the Union to query the details of the scheme on behalf of its affected members.
In the meantime, every eligible farmer in Northern Ireland should apply for the money that is on offer.
Signing up for the scheme is an absolute ‘no-brainer’. The application form is very straightforward to complete and the money that is available will be paid into producers’ bank accounts by the Rural Payments’ Agency before the end of September.
Dairy farming is at the heart of Northern Ireland’s agri food sector. It must be put on a sustainable footing for the future.
And, in this context, the Small Dairy Farmer Aid package is a very minor matter.
In total contrast, the issue of market volatility is the real challenge facing the milk industry, not just here, but around the world.
For its part Dairy UK hosted a major ‘volatility conference’ 12 months ago. But we have yet to hear real proposals from any of the dairy stakeholder groups as to how volatility can be effectively managed at farm level.
And the clock is ticking. Dairy farmers in Northern Ireland are not set up to sustainable prices in only one year out of every four.
History shows that it was market trends such as these that, effectively, killed off the pig and potato industries in this part of the world.