Voluntary cuts to milk output key for farmer in short term

Assuming that you’re reading this article on July 18, I write this in the quiet hope that a decision will be taken at today’s Farm Council that will lead to the introduction of a completely voluntary milk production-reduction programme.

This has been called for by the ICMSA since late spring when we became convinced that the Government and European Commission’s policy of “wait and see” was failing.

Today’s decision — and it is no more than a possibility, though a strong one — will mean the current drastic oversupply of milk can finally be addressed in a way that allows individual milk suppliers to make the decision on a completely voluntary basis and in a way that suits their own circumstances.

It will also retain the degree of flexibility that will allow production to be stepped-up as the supply- demand imbalance is worked through and farmer milk price returns to above-production levels.

It represents a very significant recognition of ICMSA’s analysis and while it will not have an overnight effect, it will send an unmistakeable signal to the market that supply will tighten and prices will follow that recognition.

At the very least, it marks the end of the pointless policy that had us doing the same wrong things over and over and expecting different, better, results each time.

To those who say that such a policy signifies a lack of confidence in the post-quota EU dairy sector, I would make one simple point: It’s high time that people stopped conflating the interests of the dairy sector and the dairy farmers.

The sector is doing very well, thank you. We can all read the analysts’ reports and the company accounts. It’s a radically different story for the people actually providing the milk that is the basis for all that profit and optimistic forecasting; those people have gone over a year earning nothing from their work and investment — and in many cases losing money.

So as far as ICMSA is concerned, it’s time we concentrated a little more on the dairy farmers — the foundations of the sector — and perhaps started worrying a little less about the processing, corporate, and retail elements. Goodness knows they don’t seem that worried about us.

The pace of changes and the speed with which new challenges emerge will be further illustrated this week when a major announcement on climate change and Irish farming and agri-food is expected.

While in no way diminishing the reality of climate change and the revolution in our understanding of sustainability already underway, we would urge the Government to be vigilant in terms of defending the national economic imperative that is our farming and food sector. We absolutely cannot allow ourselves to be bounced into some cack-handed one-size-fits-all environmentally driven reduction in food production or farming that ignores the fact that our system is demonstrably less stressful on the environment than that of other states.

ICMSA makes no apology for insisting that our family dairy farm is insulated so far as possible from regulations or directives that take no account of its critical environmental, social, and economic role in rural Ireland.

If we are to make sacrifices — and ICMSA rejects that premise to begin with — then our family dairy farm system must be recognised as the equivalent of the family silver and should not even be considered in that context.

A rare opportunity in an otherwise challenging year has presented itself with the news that Turkey is seeking tenders to supply 50,000 head of cattle. The announcement follows hard on the heels that that state’s market is open for Irish live exports.

I repeat here what ICMSA said on the day of that announcement: Merely stating that a market is “open” is not sufficient.

We will need a concerted and co-ordinated promotional campaign aimed at securing as much of that 50,000 as we can possibly win.

The problem around a surge in cattle numbers at the back-end has long been known and it is absolutely crucial that we convert the Turkish opportunity into a real viable live export that will ensure the competition that ensures farmers get a decent price and are not left to the tender mercies of the factories and the beef processors who never miss an opportunity, whether real or imagined, to cut the price they pay to farmers.


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