Secretary of State is lobbied on NI dairy concerns

Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) and Holstein NI have written to NI Secretary of State, Julian Smith, to outline a number of significant issues that are putting dairy businesses under significant pressure.

In a joint statement, UFU president, Ivor Ferguson, and Holstein NI chairman, Charlie Weir, pointed out that many dairy farmers are currently producing milk below cost.

They added: “Those producers who have invested in the future of the dairy industry are exposed financially. An immediate lift in prices is required, as many producers cannot survive on reduced returns, even in the short term.

“A no-deal Brexit remains a very real possibility and will have stark consequences for the industry. If there is a no-deal, we could see milk uncollected on farms, interrupted trade with the requirement of Export Health Certificates, price shock to farmgate milk prices and input availability such as feed, and veterinary products. Also, the impact of the intended UK no-deal tariff policy will have far-reaching and long-term consequences. Even if used temporarily. Northern Ireland exports over 80 per cent of its dairy produce. Any barriers to this trade will have major implications for our industry. Tariff levels and TRQs must be set at an appropriate level, otherwise it will cause irreparable damage to the dairy industry.

“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government must ensure it stabilises producer returns and prioritises securing a future EU trade deal. NI’s dairy sector had a gross turnover of £1.08 billion in 2017 and Northern Ireland is the second largest milk producing region in the UK.

“Dairying is a crucial part of Northern Ireland’s economy and given 750 million litres of milk is sent to the Republic of Ireland annually, the importance of securing a Brexit deal cannot be overstated. The UK government must be prepared to step in and support the dairy industry in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

The two organisations have also urged Julian Smith to back a more proactive wildlife intervention strategy to tackle Bovine TB in Northern Ireland. A joint meeting has been requested with the Secretary of State to discuss concerns in more detail.

The steps taken by the UFU and Holstein NI coincide with the confirmation by Rabobank that international dairy markets may well remain reasonably stable in to the first half of 2020.

A Rabobank spokesperson said: “Overall, the global dairy market looks set to remain firm through the coming six months before supply is able to get out ahead of demand growth, at which point we might see some downside pricing pressure.”