Dairy farmers get EU aid boost as export crisis deepens

By Ray Ryan, Agriculture Correspondent
THE dairy sector, under pressure from difficult trading conditions on export markets and cuts in the prices being paid to farmers for their milk supplies, received a boost in Brussels yesterday.

A meeting of the EU Milk Management Committee decided to increase the level of production aid for casein by 33% following strong pressure from Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh and the farm lobby.

Both the IFA and ICMSA welcomed the decision but voiced concern about the income crisis affecting the country’s 26,000 dairy farmers. The organisations will hold separate protest rallies in Dublin next week to highlight the situation.

Minister Walsh said yesterday’s case in support increase, from €3.20 to €4.25 per 100 kg of skim milk used, was opportune, coming as it did so quickly after a 15% increase in export refunds for cheese introduced two weeks ago.

The increase in the level of casein aid will bring badly needed support, in particular to the sector of the industry which has been encountering difficult trading conditions on export markets, principally in the US, the main export destination for casein.

Minister Walsh said he had contacted EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler outlining the difficulties in the dairy sector and had proposed a series of actions to improve the position.

An increase in the level of casein aid was identified as one of the most important and appropriate measures. He was very gratified that the Commission had responded positively and promptly to his request.

Minister Walsh said he would continue to keep the situation under re-view and to press for further action to assist the dairy sector.

IFA president John Dillon welcomed the decision but said the incoming Government had to mount a more vigorous campaign for further improvements in the EU dairy regime in response to the crisis among dairy farm-ers, whose incomes had been reduced by over 30% since last year.

ICMSA president Pat O’Rourke said that while yesterday’s Dairy Management Committee decision was a move in the right direction, it did not go far enough given the current state of the market.

At a meeting with senior EU Commission officials last Monday, the ICMSA emphasised the need for a significant increase in this area and for a clear statement of intent that the buying in of skim milk powder into intervention would not be suspended at the limit of 109,000 tonnes.

"It is an opportunity lost that such a statement was not forthcoming as it would have sent a clear signal to buyers and improve confidence in the market place," he said.

Mr O’Rourke said the ICMSA would continue with its three-pronged approach of lobbying at processor, national and EU level to ensure that the severe price and income crisis currently facing dairy farmers is addressed.

It will demand further action on the issue when it protests outside the Dáil next Thursday, when the new Government will be formed.