Monday 26 September 2016

Farmers 'irritated' at Hogan over dairy price crisis

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan

Farmers groups have reacted with "irritation" to comments made by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan where he appeared to dismiss their concerns over a 40pc collapse in dairy prices.

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In comments at the Ploughing Championships, Mr Hogan appeared to downplay the crisis in prices by saying there are always "peaks and troughs" in the industry.

But Mr Hogan's comments have been seized upon by farming groups who are demanding action to ensure an end to the volatility in prices.

And in a bid to quell Fine Gael backbench concerns over the collapse in dairy prices, the Government has established an "emergency" Dairy Forum, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is to chair the first meeting of the new forum on Tuesday, in the Office of Emergency Planning in his department.

The idea for the forum was first mooted by Fine Gael TDs John Deasy and Michael Creed, and it will involve the Department of Foreign Affairs, An Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, Teagasc and representatives of the dairy industry.

Mr Deasy, speaking to the Sunday Independent, said the holding of the Forum on Tuesday is an important show of support to Irish farmers, but he also said such a gathering has significant potential to grow the industry.

He said: "The idea came from a visit to Vietnam in March. The milk market there is worth US$6bn every year and we have very little of it. I believe we need to utilise every arm of the State, including embassy staff in places like Africa, to sell our milk and manage market volatility. The forum is about coordinating a long-term plan on a global scale."

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, ICMSA President John Comer said that all Irish farmers might reasonably have expected Commissioner Hogan to understand and appreciate the kind of damage that milk prices at their current level inflict not only on the farm families concerned, but on the wider rural economies that the EU is so vocal about supporting.

Mr Comer said that farmers were becoming increasingly irritated by spokespersons who 'waved away' these kinds of income crises as 'peaks and troughs' and implied that they were somehow natural and unavoidable.

This, he said, was most certainly not the case and nor was it what farmers either wanted or could bear.

"Who wants peaks and troughs? Not us. Who wants - or can deal with - a 40pc fall in income from one year to the next where all your bills and expenses remain constant? How is anyone expected to operate a farm on that basis?" he said.

"Let me assure the Commissioner and any other interested party that I don't know a single farmer who wouldn't prefer a more stable and predictable system," Mr Comer added.

"The only people who can deal with these ruinous peaks and troughs are the Commission and they either have the tools and won't use them or they need new tools and should design them.

"It's very interesting how there's no peaks and troughs in the milk prices charged by the retail corporations: their profit margins are totally insulated from market supply.

"And if the Commission was serious about investigating the causes of these destructive peaks and troughs then I suggest that they'd be well advised to look in that direction," he said.

The current slump in milk prices may last well into next year, the chief executive of Lakeland Dairies recently warned.

Michael Hanley said global market conditions were weak due to the oversupply of milk worldwide and would remain so for some time.

He called on the EU to intervene directly to support prices, which have been on a downward spiral since the middle of last year.

Dairy farmers have warned they are facing a "state of emergency" because of the collapse in milk prices over the past year.

Sunday Independent

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