The remit of the Food Vision Dairy Group must be expanded to reflect current food security concerns, according to the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA).
The group, chaired by former director of Teagasc, Prof. Gerry Boyle, is tasked with examining ways for the dairy sector to help achieve targets for agriculture and land use in the Climate Action Plan 2021.
It is due to present a detailed plan to Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue by Q2 2022.
The ICMSA Dairy Committee chair, Noel Murphy, feels that the group, which is due to meet again tomorrow (Monday, March 21), is “very narrowly focused on dairying” which is “not good enough”.
“Its remit has to get broader. It has to talk about the food security issue, the cost of production and the price we get for our produce,” he said.
“Things have moved in a different direction maybe than where we thought we’d be. The environment is the one big issue which the Food Vision Dairy Group is taken up with.
“We have been saying for a long time that you can’t just look at food production within the narrow parameter of just the environment.”
Murphy also believes that there is a disconnect between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and civil servants, given the mixed reports emerging from the group in relation to future dairy production.
He said that dairy farmers are concerned and frustrated by these reports as “it creates a momentum of its own and a kind of uncertainty”.
The Kerry-based dairy farmer explained that the ICMSA has always said that any reduction in production should be voluntary.
Murphy described Minister McConalogue’s suggestion to encourage farmers to grow more grain as “fantasy land” because it will not suit everyone.
“We have been encouraged to specialise and that’s the road we have gone down. We have gone away from mixed farming,” he said.
The ICMSA dairy chair explained that farmers are currently trying to cope with “exponential price increases” for inputs “which seem to be coming every day”.
“Fertiliser is around €1,000/t or maybe more and that’s if you can get it, availability is another issue.
“Farmers are very frustrated on the ground about all these issues only to be told they should be changing again when it has been practically government policy for the last five or six years to increase milk production,” he stated.
Murphy also told Agriland that the price paid by consumers for food must now rise to reflect production costs.
“Consumers are anxious that they have sustainable, traceable and environmentally friendly food production. But they must remember, and we’ve been saying this for a good while, that food has to increase in price,” he continued.
“The consumer has to pay and they haven’t been paying up to now the price of food in real terms. There’s a disconnect there.
“The system we have is broken. The big multiples control the price of food and sell a lot of our products either at or below the cost of production in order to entice people in.
“The consumer can’t have it both ways. They can have sustainability and traceability and all those things but that comes at a cost. You can have one or the other, but you can’t have both,” he concluded.