Last week saw milk producers in Northern Ireland receiving their EU dairy aid payments. But it seems to have gone unnoticed, south of the border, that each payment was based on the recipient farmer’s milk output during the 2014/15 quota year.
To be precise, producers received a contribution of 0.226p/L (€0.322/L) with payments per farm ranging from £600 (€850) to £2750 (€4,000). This approach reflected the view that the greater a farm’s output, the higher the level of compensation that should be offered.
This principle is at odds with the policies espoused by both the IFA and ICMSA. Both organisations have demanded that the EU dairy aid package should be paid out equally to every farmer in the state.
But is it fair that a man milking 20 cows should receive the same level of compensation as one milking 300 animals?
In my opinion it stands to reason that a dairy farmer with outlays that are multiples of that incurred by a neighbour down the road should receive a compensation package that reflects all of these additional costs.
Fundamentally, the Brussels’ aid money has been agreed to support farm businesses: it is not a social aid payment.
The other dimension to the decision taken in Northern Ireland is the referencing of the 2014/15 quota year. I am not sure if this is a specific criterion built into the terms of the Brussels’ deal. But if it is, then serious questions must be raised with regard to the steps that will be taken by Dublin.
In the first instance, the specification of a 2014/15 reference period rules out many new dairy entrants’ from the EU support deal. And, obviously, this would go down like a lead weight with both the IFA and ICMSA.
Both stakeholder groups are pushing the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to confirm the payment of the EU dairy aid package as quickly as possible. This includes the basic payment and the hoped for national top up.
But could it be that the delay incurred thus far has precious little to do with funding availability in Brussels and Dublin/?
The real elephant in the room could well be a belief at political level that that the eventual pay-out will cause significant unrest within the dairy sector. And this is the last thing that our politicians would want in the mouth of a general election.