Ulster Unionist Alderman Arnold Hatch has participated in a study visit to Galicia, Spain where he exchanged ideas with EU local and regional authorities on developments in the dairy sector.
As part of the programme, members visited a typical Galician dairy farm and a modern cheese factory.
The Portadown UUP representative, who also holds the position of the ECR Group Deputy Coordinator in the Natural Resources Commission, said: “The Common Agricultural Policy has helped Galicia to become a producer of high-quality food and to develop its dairy industry. Currently 56% of all Spanish dairy farms are located in this region. The region is also the ninth largest producer of milk in the EU. Unfortunately, its producers have not yet fully recovered from the recent crisis.
“The United Kingdom is the third largest dairy producer in the European Union and Northern Ireland dairy farmers account for 27% of the UK herd and 26% of production. Northern Ireland farmers would be familiar with the issues faced by Galician farmers. However, there has been a 43% surge in milk prices in the last year. The price is now almost 30p (€0.35) per litre.
“Milk buyers from all corners of the world come to Northern Ireland to see first–hand the high quality of milk and dairy products we produce there. This high quality is demonstrated by the fact that, for the second year running, an independent evaluation of sales shows that exports have exceeded targets. But before that the picture was less rosy. Milk producers have suffered huge losses as a result of the Russian embargo and the catastrophic drought of 2015. Heavy fines have been imposed on a large proportion of farms for exceeding the milk quotas.
“We need to pay special attention to reducing imbalances in the supply chain to avoid such situations in the future.”
As part of the sharing of best practices exercise, Alderman Hatch referred to an example of a successful project called “Cheese Up Your Life!”.
He continued: “Our programme involves European Milk Forum members from France, Denmark and Ireland as well the Dairy Council of Northern Ireland, and is co–funded by the EU. As part of the programme we held a Cheese Symposium in May 2016, which focused on European cheese culture generally and our local cheese heritage in particular, and used this as a platform to examine the place of cheese in a modern lifestyle. Inspiring exchange of best practices through similar initiatives is key to ensuring innovation in the dairy sector.”