It’s all about the markets

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Let’s hope that the upbeat market news from New Zealand since the turn of the year is a harbinger of equally positive developments for the dairy sector here in Northern Ireland.

There’s no doubt that the lift in milk prices recorded at the most recent Fonterra auctions has been well received. But should we be surprised at this? Back in 2007 no one had predicted the strengthening of world dairy markets which led to the then auction here in Northern Ireland breaking through the 30 pence per litre barrier in November of that year.

The reality is that, by their very nature, commodity markets are extremely hard to predict. Following the depression that followed the boom of 2007, commentators expressed the view that the dairy industry should prepare itself for ongoing market conditions which will be extremely volatile in nature.

Yes, there will be good times. But farmers can also expect periods when prices will plumb the depths. And there’s no doubt that the experience of the last 12 months has brought home to farmers the reality that markets can rise and fall in equal measure.

But there some fundamentals that will not change, chief among them being the fact that the world’s population is set to increase dramatically during the period ahead. And all these extra mouths will need fed. So is agriculture a sunset industry? I don’t think so!

The key challenge facing local farmers is that of producing high quality food at a competitive price. Individual producers can do nothing to control world food markets. But they are total masters of their own destiny when it comes to determining what goes on within the boundaries of their own farms.

The hike in prices recorded at the most recent Fonterra’s milk auction represents a much-needed shot in the arm for every local milk producer. But one swallow doesn’t make a summer. The real question is: can this trend be maintained over the coming months? We will soon find out!