The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) has called on the agriculture minister to practice what he preaches in relation to comments on fixed milk-price contracts, and the need to support dairy farmers who are suffering as a result of such contracts.

Recently, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, called on co-ops and industry to work together to aid farmers who are experiencing serious financial strain due to the fixed-price contracts that they are tied into.

But ICMSA president, Pat McCormack, said the minister’s comments would carry considerably more weight if he, himself, had not chosen to exclude all dairy farmers – including those suffering unsustainable losses out through their participation in fixed-price schemes – from his proposed silage-support scheme.

McCormack said there was no doubting the minister’s good intentions [in saying what he said] but there was a “fundamental contradiction in his approach”.

“If the situation of those in fixed-price contracts was so dire that their co-ops must help by looking again at the prices they were paying these farmers, then surely – and by the same token – the minister should have included these fixed milk-price farmers in his recent fodder scheme from which they, and all other dairy farmers, were so unfairly excluded?”

“We have been working on the fixed milk-price scheme issue for many weeks and it is a massive issue for the farmers concerned.

“It’s true that some progress has been made, but much more leeway and vision are required from the co-ops. These milk suppliers locked into fixed-price contracts will be the biggest losers across all agri-sectors this year.

“Whatever they would have received from the fodder scheme would have helped in some way,” he said.

The ICMSA president said that the chief beneficiaries of fixed-price contracts are those further along the supply chain than the co-ops, and the likes of Ornua – most notably, the retailers and nutrition companies.

“These are the companies that should be asked to play a more constructive role and pass back some of the enormous ‘windfall’ gains they have made at the expense of the farmers [some of whom are] locked into fixed-price contracts at 15c/L below current prices.”

The minister should play a role in this regard, commented McCormack.

And, he said there is “no point in highlighting record milk prices if you’re not going to note the record inputs costs”.

“The dairy sector is not the only agri-sector experiencing record output prices but – at the end of the day – it is margin that counts. Against that background of unprecedented input costs, the margin for farmers is still incredibly tight.

“If Minister McConalogue wanted to acknowledge the ‘really difficult and unprecedented situation’ of the affected farmers then it’s very simple: they should have been included in the fodder scheme,” he said

“The Minister should revisit that unfair and unjustified exclusion immediately,” he added.