‘Northern processors may go bust if dairy downturn continues’

Northern Ireland’s dairy processing sector is operating at a significant loss, according to Fane Valley Chief Executive Trevor Lockhart.

Speaking to members of the Stormont agriculture committee this week, he said that if the extremely weak market conditions for milk persist, it’s not beyond the realms of imagination that processors may start going out of business over the coming months.

The meeting of the committee was preceded by a 250-strong farmer protest at Stormont, held to highlight the financial crisis impacting on the North’s milk industry.

Lockhart confirmed that dairy products may start to be intervened in Northern Ireland over the coming days.

“There is no sign of international dairy markets improving over the coming months,” he said.

“In fact, they may well weaken further before starting to turn in the other direction. There is every prospect that prices paid at the next Global Dairy Trade Auction will fall again. And this will have an impact on future farm gate milk prices.”

Lockhart said that the only measure that can be taken to alleviate the financial pressure on the dairy sector is for Brussels to increase intervention prices.

The North’s agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill also addressed committee members. She said that she would do everything possible to secure a lift in dairy intervention support levels.

“I intend meeting EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan as a matter of priority.”

Bert Wilson, from Omagh in Co Tyrone, was one of the farmers attending the Stormont protest.

“I am here in support of my son and grandson,” he said.

“This is the worst crisis that has hit the dairy industry in my lifetime. We have 200 cows at home and we are losing thousands of pounds every week. The way things are going, there is not a future in farming for my son, never mind the generation coming after him. And this cannot be allowed to happen.”