President calls for policies to ward off dairy disaster
The family farm structure in Ireland is under major threat and policy decisions taken over the next 12 months will decide whether it will be able to survive.
This was a key message delivered by ICMSA president John Comer at the organisation's AGM in Limerick last week.
He pointed out that more than 1,700 farmers had quit dairying here in the past four years, in addition to 150,000 farmers who had got out of dairying in the EU during the same period, according to figures from the European Milk Board.
"Decisions taken must be based on protecting the family farm structure and not on the basis of providing our dairy and beef processors with the maximum amount of produce at the least possible cost," Mr Comer told farmers attending the meeting. "Food Harvest 2020 is laudable, but it won't happen unless our members can earn a reasonable income from farming," he added.
"We're often told that we should resemble the Danes' highly efficient model since it's a similar sized country with a similar tradition of dairying. However, there are 4,000 dairy farmers left in Denmark. All the rest have gone, exited, broken by overwhelming debt and a system that won't ensure that they get a margin," he said.
Mr Comer also emphasised the need for a central dairy market monitoring agency within the EU to predict and manage milk supplies.
"We can't deal with the volatility that is coming at us on a Member State basis. We need an independent monitoring agency funded by the Commission that can gather data on the cost of production and processing to bring transparency to the market. The Commission can't deregulate the dairy sector and then just wash their hands of it.
"They need to develop prediction models and voluntary constraint mechanisms to cope with periods of over-supply," he said.
The ICMSA leader also called on the Minister for Agriculture to maintain farm schemes.
"Farmers have had enough and there must be no further cuts to farm schemes. If cuts are to be made in the Department budget, you're going to have to look elsewhere," he told Minister Coveney. "If civil servants are entitled to a Croke Park then so are farm families."
While Mr Comer backed the minister's approach to CAP reform proposals, he reiterated his opposition to the reintroduction of a coupled beef payment.
"Dairy farmers have paid heavily on the beef price grid and we will not pay again. There can be no justification for cutting the Single Farm Payment in one sector to pay for a coupled payment for another," he said.