Minister reflects on ‘milestone’

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill described the ending of the EU milk quota regime as a significant milestone for the local dairy industry.

She said: “The decision to end milk quotas was made by the EU Council of Ministers in 2003, so dairy farmers have had a long lead-in period to plan for a future without milk quotas. The aim of this decision was to make the dairy industry more market-orientated.”

As regards the impact on Northern Ireland, the minister added: “For a number of years production in Britain has been below quota and this has enabled our dairy farmers to adapt their production level to market returns. However, the position in the south is very different. Their milk production has been constrained and the ending of quotas will usher in a new era for their dairy industry which has been planning for a significant increase in production. This could have a downward impact on prices unless there is strong growth and demand in global markets.”

Minister O’Neill continued: “What happens in the future will depend on market conditions. It is therefore vital that our local dairy industry continues to pursue a market-led strategy with future decisions being taken in the context of input costs and market returns. Also, my Department will continue to help the local dairy industry improve its performance and grow its potential in the market place in a sustainable way.

“In this respect the Agri-Food Strategy Board’s report, Going for Growth, has provided a road map on the way ahead, with challenging targets based on anticipated long-term growth opportunities as a result of rising global demand. Although our dairy farmers are facing a difficult time at present I am optimistic about the longer term prospects.”