He told farmers at a meeting in Cahir, Co Tipperary, that co-ops and the Irish Dairy Board must maintain milk prices to preserve the fabric of the dairy industry.
“I am determined to put forward the farmers’ side of the milk price story because co-ops talk down milk prices, completely disregarding the low-income situation already on dairy farms,” he said.
Mr Walshe said processors and the Irish Dairy Board must heed the message that there is nothing left to cut on farms and that it is essential to maintain milk prices in 2006. Average Irish milk producers, with a 50-cow herd, are only earning €22,000 a year - two thirds of the average industrial wage.
Mr Walshe asked co-op farmer board members, who will be making milk price decisions in the coming weeks, to bring this message back to management.
“Co-ops can no longer take for granted their suppliers, who will not continue milking cows for little more than the minimum wage,” he said.
IFA dairy committee chairman Richard Kennedy warned co-op management to keep their hands off the dairy premium.
“It is decoupled. It is not index-linked and is subject to many reductions before payment several months in arrears. If anything, the dairy premium makes strong milk prices more important than ever if producers are to be encouraged to remain committed to the business and invest on farm,” Mr Kennedy said.
He said that by rooting out every inefficiency and duplication, and by co-operating more on marketing, the industry can be highly competitive on the world scene.
“This is what dairy farmers demand from the co-op board members they have elected to represent them. This is also what board members must demand from the management teams employed to run our businesses in our best interest,” he said.
Mr Kennedy said paying viable milk prices is not about looking after farmers’ incomes at the expense of co-ops.
“It is about making our industry more competitive,” he said.