The number of dairy farmers supplying liquid milk has dropped by 40% over the past 11 years, IFA President Joe Healy told crowds at a Liquid Milk Rally in Portlaoise.

Addressing a crowd of milk suppliers, Healy said that farmers who choose this system of production must be adequately remunerated for the milk they produce.

“We want to focus on fresh locally produced milk from our industry which will only be supplied if farmers are remunerated for the costs and the lifestyle it takes to produce liquid milk,” he said.

Between 1995 and 2016, the IFA President said that the number of liquid milk producers dropped from 3,344 in 1995 to 1,982 in 2016 – a fall of 40%.

Worryingly, Healy also highlighted the switch from winter or liquid milk systems of production to spring calving systems.

Most specialist liquid milk suppliers have been supplying milk for generations, he said, but with the market failing to reward farmers for winter milk production there appears to be a switch.

It is very striking to see that the number of new entrants to liquid milk is close to zero, there is ample evidence to suggest that numbers of liquid milk producers are switching to spring milk production.

Looking at dairy calvings in 2015 and 2016, Healy also said that the number of dairy calvings taking place in September and October has dropped by 16% and 12% respectively.

And given the fall in autumn dairy calf births, he suggested that dairy farmers are voting on their feet and moving away from winter milk production.

The importance of liquid milk

The IFA leader said that Irish consumers drink about 138L of milk per head each year, higher than another European country.

“The fresh milk market in Ireland is worth €530m at retail level, about €400m of this is produced in the Republic in Ireland,” he said.

“Bord Bia has shown that local matters, studies carried out in recent years show that consumers value locally produced food and it is clear by the marketing carried out by retailers that this is important.

All of the main retailers source some of their own labelled milk from the National Dairy Council (NDC) milk pool, while some only use NDC milk,” he said

To ensure that the is a future in winter milk production, Healy said that farmers need to challenge themselves to look at their production system.

While, dairies, retailers and consumers all need to be challenged to ensure that Irish dairy farmers are adequately remunerated to ensure that there is a future in this industry, while not taking fresh milk supplies for granted.