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UFU Steps Up Dairy Campaign

27 April 2009

ULSTER, UK - The Ulster Farmers’ Union says it is stepping up its lobbying campaign to return dairy farmers to profitability.

The UFU says the crisis in the milk sector, with producers continuing to sell milk at below the cost of production is threatening the future of one of Northern Ireland’s primary industries.

UFU President Graham Furey said: “I am gravely concerned about the financial burden on dairy farmers. Many are heavily borrowed, particularly to meet the demands of the Nitrates Directive, they have feed and fertiliser bills to pay and they are receiving monthly milk cheques which aren’t covering their costs. We accept that the global dairy market has endured very difficult trading conditions, but we remain convinced that more can be done to generate better prices for farmers in Northern Ireland”.

Graham Furey visited dairy farmers in County Antrim this week, while UFU Chief Executive Clarke Black raised the problems faced by local producers at meetings in Brussels. In the coming weeks the UFU will be meeting leading milk processors in Northern Ireland and the UFU plans to meet with dairy farmer representatives from the National Farmers’ Unions and Irish Farmers’ Association.

Graham Furey said; “We have looked closely at the way milk is purchased from local dairy farms and marketed. The current status quo is not delivering for dairy farmers and change is needed to bring about better prices for our producers. We recently brought together young dairy farmers and they wanted change in the industry.

Among the issues they highlighted were: the need for a flexible production system to allow the industry to meet fluctuating market demand; a desire to see the industry strategically move away from commodity milk powders and into more consumer products to service the UK population; a desire to see stronger marketing of well branded Northern Ireland milk and milk products; and a concern that the current milk auction system was not delivering returns to producers which fully reflected our product mix. Instead the average auction price seems to reflect only the depressed milk powder market and does not reflect stronger prices which continue to be paid for consumer products”.

The UFU says going forward it will continue to lobby the EU Commission to manage the EU milk market more positively and minimise the volatility which producers are facing; and press for change in the Northern Ireland dairy sector.

Graham Furey said; “In recent months our prices have been the lowest in Europe and have trailed significantly behind GB. Anyone who argues that the industry should continue on this path is deluding themselves. We have to question whether the opportunities for Northern Ireland milk are being fully grasped. About 20 per cent of the milk processed in Northern Ireland is going into the liquid market and one quarter of the milk processed here goes into cheese; we are not just a milk powder dependent region. The weakness of sterling should also be boosting our competitiveness in international markets, while UK retail markets are stable. These are all issues that the UFU will be focusing on as we try to bring about a positive change for local dairy farmers and return them to profitability”.

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