Opinion

Why should liquid milk producers be treated as a protected species?

Why should liquid milk producers be treated as a specialist stakeholder group within the dairy industry?

Surely this approach to business harks back to a forgone era when it was accepted practice for some groups to get special treatment at the expense of others. And that’s not on in the 21st century.

At the end of the day, milk is milk. And the product coming down the lane from those farms categorised as ‘manufacturing’ is every bit as wholesome and nutritious as that emanating from liquid milk businesses.

In fact, one could argue that the opposite is, in-fact the case given that every spring calving dairy farmer is forever chasing the ‘holy grail’ of improved milk components. And, of course, many dairy farms in Ireland are now Origin Green certified.

After all, there is no differentiation between manufacturing and liquid milk in Northern Ireland. Up there, milk is lifted off every farm and then apportioned as required by the individual processor.

The only bespoke liquid milk supplier in the north is Strathroy Dairies. And, as far as I am aware, they do not pay a specific ‘liquid’ bonus for the milk they collect off-farm.

In fact, the vast bulk of the milk collected by Strathroy from its producer pool in places like Wexford ends up being directed towards shops and other retail outlets across this island.

I fully accept that liquid producers must supply significant quantities of winter milk and this comes at a cost.

But to have this clearly defined stakeholder group trying to hold the country to ransom over a pricing agreement is ridiculous.

Back in the day – before the current milk testing and processing facilities were in place – there might well have been a case for having an elite cohort of liquid milk suppliers: but not today!

The current liquid milk supply arrangements in Ireland are totally out of date. In fact, I would hazard a guess that they are simply adding totally unnecessary layers of bureaucracy and logistical complications within the dairy sector as a whole.

If these were removed, it would provide processors with an opportunity to pay a better price for milk across the board.

If the dairies need winter milk, they should be prepared to pay for it within an open market scenario.

Winter beef finishers are not categorised as a separate stakeholder group and the same principle holds where lamb, pork and all the other agri commodities are concerned.

Put simply, the current liquid milk arrangements in Ireland smack of cronyism, going back over many years. The word discrimination also comes to mind. If I was a young farmer coming into dairy today, I would feel rightly miffed at my milk being treated as an almost inferior product.

That conclusion could be easily arrived at given the recent hullabaloo created over the setting of liquid prices for the coming year.

Fundamentally, the milk coming off every dairy farm in Ireland is more than suited for use within the liquid market. If the processors want winter milk, then they should be prepared to put their hands in their pockets and shell out for it accordingly.

This should be the premise that guides all of their pricing policies throughout the year.

Once this premise has been established, individual farmers can make up their minds as to whether or not they want to produce milk the year-round.

The IFA is unlikely to kick this argument into play, given its strong links with the current cohort of liquid milk suppliers, but the ICMSA should have a rattle at it.

And, let’s not forget the National Dairy Council as a contributor to this debate. This is the body that has been specifically set up to encourage the consumption if milk by folks of all ages.

Yet, it receives a significant proportion of its funding courtesy of a voluntary producer levy, which does not differentiate between liquid and manufacturing suppliers.

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