The past twelve months has seen intense lobbying on dairy issues by the UFU in London, Brussels and with other farm lobby organisations.
Its key demand has been for a review of the price at which the European Commission must begin supporting the market through intervention.
This is currently around 17 pence a litre – an unrealistic figure set in 2005 and not changed in a 2008 review. The need for a review was first highlighted by the UFU – a cause now picked up by farm lobby groups elsewhere.
Dairy committee chairman, Jonathan Moore, admits lobbying is an often frustrating experience. “Like farmers we know what is needed. We cannot control the weak euro, which is making a bad situation worse; we cannot deliver the global cut in milk production that is needed. What we can do is continue pressing the European Commission to recognise the failings of its intervention support mechanism – and we will continue applying that pressure at every opportunity,” said Mr Moore.
He added that it was frustrating not to make more progress in Brussels and accused the European Commission, and the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, of being in denial about the scale of the crisis facing the European dairy industry.
“Political lobbying is an on-going, often behind the scenes, task – and it is one where success can never be certain. However we have worked hard at this, and will continue assembling allies and pressing Brussels to do what we know is right for the industry here and elsewhere in Europe,” he said.
The UFU have continued to engage with the banks to discuss with them the significant down turn in farm gate prices and to highlight cash flow difficulties on many farms. “They have assured us of their commitment to continue to work with farmers on this issue and we want to remind farmers that if they are experiencing financial difficulties they need to speak with their bank and see what products are available to help ease cash flow problems,” said Mr Moore.
The UFU has published a summary of its lobbying activities over the past year specifically in dairying.
6th August – UFU hosted meeting of with other UK farm unions and warned them of pending price cuts. Urgency not shared by GB colleagues.
7th August – Russian ban announced
5th September – UFU met with Dairy UK NI to discuss the Russian ban.
12th September – UFU Milk Price Index withdrawn from publication due to member concerns that it reflected a falling market.
13th October – UFU meet with Dairy UK NI to discuss need for EU intervention review
21st October – UFU attended IFA conference and warned of worsening prices.
23rd October – UFU met with Commission in Brussels to discuss EU market measures including intervention
3rd November – UFU submitted dairy brief to NI MPs on all-party parliamentary group on dairy at Westminster
5th November – Westminster Hall dairy industry debate.
13th November - Met with Jim Shannon MP ahead of second Westminster Hall debate on milk
17th November – UFU president met with IFA to voice concerns at market movements
18th November - UFU President met Liz Truss (DEFRA Secretary of State) on need to review intervention
25th November - Met with DARD minister Michelle O’Neill
27th November - UFU wrote to Northern Ireland finance minister Simon Hamilton on need for income averaging increase from 2 to 5 years
1st December - UK Union dairy meeting to discuss intervention review
2nd December - Submitted evidence to EFRA Committee at Westminster on milk pricing in NI
3rd December - Submitted evidence to the ARD committee at Stormont on local price direction.
9th December – UFU delegation gave oral evidence to ARD Committee.
9th December – UFU met EU agriculture commissioner, Phil Hogan.
11th December – UFU met all leading local processors.
18th December – UFU president met banks to discuss capital holidays.
21st January – UFU Dairy Committee held their monthly meeting at Stormont and met with William Irwin, Chairman of the ARD committee and warned him of a period of prolonged low milk prices and the need for a review of intervention.
February – March 2015 – There was a brief recovery in global commodity prices which saw a very brief halt in price drops for 2 months. Despite many talking about recovery at this time, the UFU said further price falls and a period of prolonged prices was expected.
6th February - Met with Diane Dodds MEP and Jim Nicholson MEP on intervention review
3rd March - Met Margaret Ritchie MP (member of EFRA Committee)
3rd March – UFU met with parliamentary under secretary George Eustice MP on intervention and Milk Market Observatory.
3rd March – UFU briefed Neil Parish MP (Chairman of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dairy)
Budget 2015 – extension of income averaging from 2 to 5 years confirmed.
20th March – Dairy UK NI Board meeting – UFU called for a review of intervention
26th March – UFU met with EU Agriculture Commissioner. No move on Intervention.
28th April - UK Union meeting on worsening milk prices
11/12th May - UFU represented UK Dairy farmers in Brussels and pushed case for intervention review
13th May – UFU met with dairy processors.
24th June - Met UK Unions seeking support on intervention review
2nd July - UFU was the first (and to date only) UK Union to prepare a document setting the case for reviewing intervention.
15th July - UFU brought together banks, processors, DARD and CAFRE to warn them of dire forecasts for local dairy sector and the need for leadership from government.
24th July - Met Margaret Ritchie MP requesting urgent meeting with both the UK Prime Minister and EU Commissioner Hogan
29th July – UFU meeting UK Unions to discuss volatility
30th July - Meeting Danny Kinahan MP and Jim Shannon to seek cross party support on request to meet PM to discuss dire prospect for Northern Ireland dairy industry.
UFU Dairy Farmer Conference at Greenmount (with banks, processors, feed companies, local politicians)