Farmer groups call on co-ops to give some leeway to producers

Dairy representatives from the Irish farming organisations have been unanimous in calling for processors to take “atrocious” weather conditions into account and to cut some slack for farmers by holding their milk prices for the month of March.

ICMSA

With problems on farms seemingly growing by the day, mainly due to atrocious weather conditions, the March milk price announcements will have to prioritise farm and farmer welfare, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association’s (ICMSA’s) Dairy Committee chairman Ger Quain.

Milking for the first three months of 2018 in what Quain described as “near catastrophic” conditions all over the country has taken its toll. The fact that there is no end in sight to this fodder situation, as yet, is also adding to that worry.

“Fodder is non-existent in many areas, with many farmers sourcing supplies from anywhere possible to keep animals healthy,” he said.

“The ICMSA is receiving reports from members throughout the country in relation to: their cattle having to be housed for months on end; reduced milk production; very poor grazing conditions; increased concentrate feed bills; and the sharp reduction in milk price – which is being compounded by low constituents experienced over the last month.

This is a daunting list of problems and it will have to be faced by everyone standing together and showing solidarity – the co-ops’ role in sourcing fodder is hugely important and is appreciated.

“But the area where our co-ops can – and must – show more support is milk price, and the low constituents currently are compounding the problem in that area.

“We want and expect co-ops to factor in the undeniable range and extent of the pressures on farmers and to set a March milk price that is informed by that situation.

“That means that the way to show farmers the support that everyone agrees is required right now is to hold March milk prices at current levels,” concluded Quain.

IFA

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) National Dairy Committee chairman, Tom Phelan, has warned co-ops that they must show their understanding of the extreme hardship and stress levels on farms in the only way that will count for dairy farmers – by holding their respective March milk prices.

Farmers appreciate the support co-ops have given through various fodder initiatives. However, the goodwill generated by these moves will be destroyed by any price cut, he said.

“Farmers have had to contend with unprecedented hardship this spring, after what was an early and long winter.”

Most have run short, or are altogether out of fodder and are only now – over a month late – seeing ground temperatures that will hopefully allow for some grass growth in the coming days, the chairman added.

“The stress among farmers who did not get a chance to rest after the hectic calving season are at dangerous levels.

Teagasc has put the reduced profitability for each day that the cows are not grazing at between €2.20 and €3.00 per cow. Hence for a 100-cow herd, a three-week delay in turn out, for example, would cost the farmer around €5,500.

“The true nature of the losses may be greater as some herds have lost more than three weeks’ worth of grazing since last autumn. Also, they will certainly rise further in the longer term, as fodder production capacity, cow condition and possibly cow fertility also suffer.

“That’s only the economics; the levels of stress on farms are seriously worrying,” Phelan said.

“In these exceptionally harsh circumstances, farmers need to feel truly supported by their co-ops utilising some of the profits they made last year to hold the March milk price, despite lower market returns.”