The IFA is set to launch a new liquid milk strategy next week to “cement the future production of locally-produced fresh milk”.

It is expected that the launch of the ‘Milkwise 2025’ strategy will be attended by representatives from both dairies and retailers, other industry stakeholders, liquid milk producers and politicians.

The introduction of a strategy is very important; especially with Brexit now upon us and the fact that the Irish fresh milk market sources 25% of its sales in Northern Ireland, the IFA President Joe Healy said.

“The milk we put in our cereals each morning and in our cups of tea throughout the day depends on 1,800 specialist producers milking cows 365 days a year, to guarantee consumers fresh, high-quality, locally-produced milk supplies all year round.

“Historically we have been able to take the availability of fresh milk for granted, but times have changed,” he said.

The IFA President will be joined by National Liquid Milk Committee Chairman, John Finn, in Dublin next Tuesday to launch the liquid milk strategy.

When I started in liquid milk production in 1984, it was a profitable farming enterprise, with ‘brands’ dominating the market and the largest volumes being sold door-to-door.

“Things have changed, with supermarket private labels sourced through price-based tenders dominating sales; in a cut-throat competition between dairies and retailers for market share and consumer footfall.

“The premiums paid to specialist farmers have been eroded, from an average of 4.6c/l over creamery prices in the five-year period from 1995 to 1999 to less than 2c/l for the five years to 2015,” Finn said.

Farmers’ remuneration has fallen below the cost of producing liquid milk, he added.

This has become discouraging; as farmers weigh up its value against the lower cost, simpler spring calving production systems, which now allow them to expand output to optimise income, he said.

‘Irish consumers value locally-produced food’

Irish consumers value locally-produced food and have been shown by the National Dairy Council (NDC) to care about supporting local jobs by purchasing NDC Guarantee marked milk, according to Finn.

“They consume milk fresh, not UHT (Ultra-High Temperature processing), like the majority of Europe’s consumers do.

“All of the main retailers are now sourcing at least some of their private label milk offering from suppliers offering NDC marked product; but milk from Northern Ireland accounts for 25% of fresh milk sales.

“We owe it to Irish consumers as much as to Irish liquid milk producers to ensure the economic viability of our national production system, to secure the constant availability of locally-produced fresh milk on supermarket shelves and in restaurants for the long term.

This will require new policies and regulations, new approaches in contracting and pricing, and a greater engagement by all stakeholders with the economic challenges of specialist liquid milk production.

“We are making recommendations on all those issues in our new Liquid Milk Strategy,” Finn said.