EU agricultural ministers to discuss pressures facing dairy producers

THE critical dairy market situation is to be discussed at a meeting of European Union agriculture ministers which begins in Luxembourg today and continues tomorrow.

Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith said contact had again been made with the Commission and other member states in advance of the meeting. “Dairy producers and processors are under extreme pressure due to low prices, and dairy farmers in Ireland are receiving a price for milk that is below their cost of production.

“It was important, therefore, notwithstanding the measures already taken by the Commission, that the Council again addresses the issue.”

Mr Smith, noting the measures taken by the Commission so far, said he had two key demands when he met with Commissioner Mariann Fisher Boel in Brussels last month and again at the March Council.

“At those meetings I pressed two priorities: the continued intervention of high volumes of butter at the intervention price and aggressive application of export refunds in order to move greater quantities permanently into export markets,” he said.

Mr Smith said he was pleased the Commission has continued to operate these schemes and stressed that it is important to maintain them at viable levels. The tendering process has opened for skimmed milk powder and it is crucial that this operates at close to the intervention price.

Mr Smith said he will urge his ministerial colleagues to continue to keep the dairy market under review at Council until the situation improves. “We should also consider any additional measures that could usefully be undertaken to support our producers during this difficult period.

“The Commission has a vital role in managing the market and must utilise all available instruments at its disposal,” he said.

Meanwhile, Glanbia was urged yesterday to implement a three-point plan to support the income of its milk suppliers.

Irish Farmers Association president Padraig Walshe called on board members to reverse the group’s milk price rise cut. He urged them to increase to 50% the portion of plc profits paid out as dividend to increase the co-op’s income and allow the co-op to top-up producer milk prices.

Mr Walshe further called on Glanbia to consider, case by case, farmers with low, zero or negative March milk cheques with a view to re-scheduling repayment of trading debts incurred with the group.

IFA Dairy Committee chairman Richard Kennedy said Glanbia was paying up to 3.5c/l less for March milk than many other co-ops operating in the very same difficult dairy market.

“The West Cork Co-ops will pay over 23c/l for March. Newmarket Co-op will pay 22c/l for March and April. And even commodity-dependent Lakeland will pay 2.3c/l more than Glanbia for milk in March,” he said.

Mr Kennedy said Glanbia is the largest, most efficient, most diversified, and most profitable milk processor in the country. It must pay a leading price to its loss-making suppliers.

It was unacceptable to Glanbia’s farmer shareholders that they must fight every year to receive a decent milk price.

Glanbia has, meanwhile, informed suppliers in its newsletter that no significant improvement in the overall market for dairy products is envisaged until the last quarter of 2009.


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