Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

Irish milk prices slump from top to mid table in EU league

Ireland is now mid-table in European milk prices.
Ireland is now mid-table in European milk prices.

Irish milk prices have slumped from among the highest in Europe to mid table, according to the latest data from the EU's Milk Market Observatory (MMO).

Apart from the outliers of Malta and Cyprus, Irish farmers high of 44.9c/l for milk in November 2013 was the highest average raw milk price achieved anywhere in the EU over the last three years.

However, the average of 28.3c/l paid out by Irish processors in February this year puts us mid-table, with 12 other EU member states paying out higher prices last month.

Intervention stocks of dairy product continue to grow strongly, with 60,000t of butter now in EU storage units.

Skimmed milk powder stocks are also high at over 80,000t in both private and public intervention stores.

And despite the MMO predictions of average milk prices of 36c/l by 2025, current prices continue to weaken.

The estimated average raw milk price across the EU in February was 29.5c/l, down from 40c/l at the start of 2014.

While this average is 10pc lower than the average class III milk price in the US, it is over 8c/l stronger than the season advance rate in Fonterra for milk at 4.2pc butterfat, and 3.35pc protein.

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The MMO estimates the average price in New Zealand in January to be a dreadful 21.2c/l.

The fall in milk prices had wiped 40pc of farm gross margins across the EU by the third quarter in 2015.

With the ongoing fall in prices since then, margins are likely to be even lower at this stage.

The margin calculations carried out by the MMO do not take any account of labour, land or other capital costs.

In addition, the sales from calves, cows and subsidies are not included either.

The average Irish milk price for February when fat and protein bonuses are included came to 29.3c/l in February.

This was down 0.15c/l on the previous month, and 3.35c/l lower than February 2015.

In fact, average Irish raw milk prices have taken the biggest hit during the last year, when compared to the rest of the EU.

While the drop here was 12pc, the average across the EU was half this level at 7pc. Some countries saw their milk prices actually increase over 2015, with Cyprus, Malta and Sweden all recording increases of 1pc, 3pc and 4pc, respectively.

Big milk producers such as the Dutch, the Germans and the French experienced much smaller declines of 3pc, 7pc and 8pc, respectively.

While some EU countries such as Malta and Cyprus have maintained exceptionally high prices of 47c/l and 58c/l respectively, Ireland's main competitors had very similar February prices.

Dutch farmers earned 29.1c/l, while German and French farmers received 28.9c/l, while the Danes ended up with 29.6c/l.

However, dairy farmers in newer EU Member States are at lower levels. Latvian and Lithuanian farmers are on 21.5c/l, while Polish and Hungarian farmers are on about 26c/l.

Finnish, Italian and Austrian dairy processors are among the best payers in the EU at the moment, with an average of 38.5c/l in Finland. Austrian and Italian farmers are getting close to 34c/l.

After initial signs of milk price recovery in January, spot milk prices in both Holland and Italy have dropped again.

This has hit butter prices hardest, since skimmed milk powder prices were already at intervention levels.

However, butter has lost 14pc in value to date this year. It was at €2,570/t in early March, which is still €260/t above intervention levels.

Despite falling butter prices in Europe, butter prices in the US are 13pc higher than one year ago and a full $1,500/t higher than averages in the EU or New Zealand.

In the absence of a Russian market, this is providing a valuable relief valve for EU products.

Indo Farming