Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson has said that dairy farmers should give the EU Milk Production Reduction Aid Scheme careful consideration.
Mr Nicholson encouraged all producers to assess whether an application to the voluntary scheme would benefit them given their own particular circumstances and business needs.
Farmers must submit applications and supporting documents directly to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). The application deadline for the first reduction period is 11am on Wednesday 21st September.
Mr Nicholson said: “Whilst recent reports of slight increases in milk prices are welcome the reality is that further price rises are needed before they are sustainable and before dairy farmers can begin to recover the losses they have been shouldering for a prolonged period of time.
“I also note reports of processors calling for more milk, processors should however remember that dairy farmers cannot produce milk at a loss. Even European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker commented on milk prices during his State of the EU address in Strasbourg this week saying that he did not accept that milk was cheaper than water.
“Primary producers have been under substantial pressure for a considerable period of time. The EU Milk Production Reduction Aid Scheme is therefore an important initiative and there are a range of factors for farmers to weigh up when deciding whether or not to apply.
“It is vital that dairy farmers carefully consider the terms of the scheme and assess whether reducing milk production benefits them given their own particular circumstances and business needs.
“It is worth noting that this €150m EU-wide scheme is one element of the larger €500m EU agricultural support package which was brought forward by Commissioner Hogan in July.
“The remaining €350m, the Conditional Adjustment Fund, is to be implemented at national and regional level with each member state receiving a ‘national envelope’ to distribute locally. The UK has been allocated €30.19m.
“Crucially member states and regions are permitted to provide a top-up of up to 100%.
“This means there is the potential to double the funds provided to the industry if for example London or Belfast is prepared to match the EU allocation with national funds. France and Germany have pledged to co-finance their allocations with additional money and the Republic of Ireland’s Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed, appears to be under pressure to follow suit.
“Doubling Northern Ireland’s estimated £4.5m share of the UK’s allocation would represent a much-needed boost to local farmers but this requires political will.
“If DAERA match-funded Northern Ireland’s allocation it would maximise the positive impact of this funding on the ground.
“These funds, when put alongside what should be improved basic payments this year due to the exchange rate, would in my view go a long way to restore confidence within the industry as a whole - as that was what was originally intended.
“I fear that if the Northern Ireland allocation is not co-financed farmers here could be left behind their EU counterparts.”