Ulster Unionist representatives Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, Jim Nicholson MEP and Councillor Kyle Savage recently visited Glanbia Cheese Ltd to discuss the challenges currently facing the dairy sector.
Also on the agenda the company’s plans for the future as the group met with Cecil Morton, Glanbia Farm liaison manager.
Commenting after the meeting Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: “Falling dairy markets and the on-going Russian trade ban are hitting dairy farmers and processors alike.
“The significant drop in farm gate prices is causing pain for producers across Northern Ireland, given these difficulties good communication between farmers and processors is more crucial than ever. Meeting with Cecil Morton, was therefore a good opportunity to discuss the situation currently facing farmers and processors plus the sector’s future prospects.
“I have concerns that the pressure on cash flow will ultimately affect the health of farmers and their families. Whilst taking receipt of the Single Farm Payment is important this will only provide short-term relief, we need a longer term solution to return profitability to the industry.
“Locally dairy farmers are more exposed to market volatility than their GB counterparts due to our reliance on exports. Because of the nature of the dairy sector in Northern Ireland the Minister of Agriculture must take a Northern Ireland first approach to lobbying to ensure that the situation facing the sector here is well represented and understood at both a UK and EU level.
“DARD and the industry also need to work hard to develop new export markets which need to kick in as a matter of priority.”
Jim Nicholson MEP said: “The downturn in dairy markets is hitting the industry here hard, farm gate prices have fallen dramatically when compared to this time last year and I have concerns that many farmers will be unable to withstand the prolonged pressure on cash flow especially as analysts don’t expect an upturn until late 2015.
“As experience shows the problems facing the sector will not quickly resolve themselves, intervention at a realistic rate would help to provide much needed support under the market and reduce the pain being felt by farmers and the dairy supply chain as a whole.
“Last week when Commissioner Hogan appeared in front of MEPs in the Agriculture Committee I called for a review of the intervention price – the Commission is however continuing to resist taking this action.”
Councillor Kyle Savage, who is a dairy farmer himself, concluded: “From speaking with constituents I know that many dairy farmers are under pressure as a result of falling prices.
“As a dairy farmer I know how extreme market volatility can affect a business’s cash flow and as we now move into the winter months with higher costs of production the pain being felt by farmers will only intensify.
“As tough times are expected to continue farmers cannot be expected to produce milk at a price which is lower than the cost of production and if the world continues to over produce, then clearly milk prices will continue to be volatile.
“Alongside reviewing the intervention price other practical steps should include all key stakeholders from Government through to banks working more closely with all aspects of the dairy industry to help it through the current difficulties.”