Future of milk industry debated

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Leading dairy experts from across Europe gave their views on how best to future manage and support the milk industry to members of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee earlier this week.

The event had been organised as part of the research undertaken by MEP Jim Nicholson, who is currently drawing up a detailed report on this matter, which will be debated and endorsed by the Brussels’ parliament over the coming weeks.

Speaking after the event Mr Nicholson said: “This report and this week’s hearing come at a crucial time in the history of the EU’s dairy sector.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the disappearance of quotas the decision was made many years ago and we will now have to implement that decision. We must also remember that quotas did not prevent crises in the dairy sector in the past.

“I believe that as MEPs we must be active in seeking solutions to address the problems the dairy sector is facing right now. We have also got a responsibility as elected representatives to help ensure a good future for the sector and dairy farmers.

“During the hearing I listened to many views regarding the situation currently facing producers and processors, the effectiveness of the tools currently available to support the industry and the future prospects for the dairy sector.”

“Some of the views were constructive, others were less so.

“I was disappointed that the European Commission officials participating continued to rule out reviewing the rate of intervention, this would help to bottom out the market and reduce the pain being felt by Northern Ireland farmers and producers across the EU at this time.

“After the crisis in 2009 the Commission stated that it would never again fail to act in time to support the dairy sector, yet it continues to sit on its hands this time.”

United Dairy Farmers’ CEO Dr David Dobbin was one of the experts giving evidence to the hearing. Courtesy of his presentation he expressed the view that EU markets may have bottomed out.

“But we are still in a situation of tremendous flux. The reality is that the world’s dairy markets are driven by supply: not demand,” he added.

Dr Dobbin went on to highlight the need for dairy intervention support measures to be increased as a short term support measure for the milk industry.

“Beyond that, contracts will play a role in helping to counter the impact of volatility,” he added.

“But they must be introduced in ways that involves all the players along the agri food chain.”

Commenting after yesterday’s hearing on the dairy package, MEP Diane Dodds said: “The meeting should have been an opportunity to find solutions for the dairy sector across Europe. Unfortunately we heard vague ideas of potential mid to long term solutions from MEPs but little on how to deal with the current depression in milk prices and the consequent cash flow problems for family farm businesses. I took the opportunity to highlight, once again, the continuing price falls in milk for Northern Ireland dairy farmers and the need for the Commission to signal support with a rise in intervention price levels that more sensibly reflects the cost of production. Both the committee and the Commission have adopted a “wait and see” approach to this grave situation although it is clear that some member states are more affected than others.

Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Joanne Dobson MLA also attended the Brussels’ hearing. She commented: “To have the plight of the Northern Ireland dairy farmers heard at the heart of the European Parliament just goes to show the level of influence Jim Nicholson MEP has out here.

“Because we export over 80% of our dairy output our industry is particularly vulnerable to world markets and this was clearly highlighted by David Dobbin during his presentation.

“The measure of the Commission will be in their response. During my visit I got to meet with a senior member of Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan’s cabinet plus invited the Commissioner to meet with the members of the Stormont Agriculture Committee when he comes to Northern Ireland in the coming months - I will be seeking the support of my colleagues next week.”