Concerned dairy farmers have been assured audits will be fair in the upcoming quality scheme.
And there will be adequate opportunity to rectify any issues, and zero membership charges for farmers, promised Bord Bia CEO Aidan Cotter.
He moved to allay concerns raised by farmers at the ICMSA AGM at Limerick, where he was a guest speaker.
He told the 350 farmers that audits will be fair and practical; the audit check list will be provided to farmers in advance; one to two months will be allowed to rectify any deficiencies; and there will be no rejection of milk by processors for audit failure, if the farmer is taking the necessary measures to correct any deficiencies.
The scheme has been piloted on 300 farms, which scored very high for compliance.
“The cost of the scheme is being carried by the dairy coops. That was agreed from the outset, and, contrary to some recent reports, there was never any doubt about who will have to pay,” he said. “We are very conscious that when an audit is carried out on one of your farms, there is an obligation to ensure that it is conducted in a fair and impartial manner. We routinely check on our auditors, and we witness audits on a regular basis. Our reputation as auditors is important and we want that reputation upheld. We clearly want to hear back from you if there are problems.”
Questioned on duplication of farm audits and inspections, and if existing Department of Agriculture inspections should be sufficient for the market place, he said, “I don’t think they are, frankly. We have seen what the expectations of the customers in the market place are, and if we don’t do this, those customers will regularly turn to Fonterra, Campina, etc, to source milk, and they will readily get what they want. We can make decisions whether we are going to compete on the market place and build on our strengths, or are we going to settle for the bare minimum?”
ICMSA president John Comer predicted dairy farmers won’t be 100% satisfied with the scheme, but as a country exporting 80% of dairy produce, the choice is between selling on commodity markets, and taking the highs and lows associated with that, or reinforcing our superior quality to take full advantage of international markets — which requires independent verification.
“The balance to be struck here is between accreditation and practical reality. That was the basis on which ICMSA engaged with this scheme, and we have no intention of allowing the goalposts to be moved at this stage. The processors said that they will pay for the audits, and we are holding them to that.”
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