Protesting farmers give their views in Portlaoise today

A liquid milk producers’ protest is currently underway in Portlaoise, Co. Laois, which has been organised by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

Farmers are concerned that the long-standing Dunnes’ market share grabbing discount of milk at 67c/L is starting to degenerate into a milk price war.

AgriLand was present at the protest to get the views of the producers and their issues with the retailers in question. With at least 100 protesters in attendance, a good crowd had gathered in Portlaoise.

One of the protesters was Larry Hannon from Ballitore, Co. Kildare. Hannon milks 190 Holstein Friesian cows on a 220ac farm (some of which is rented). Commenting on the issue, Hannon said: “The industry is at a crossroads. Short-term contracts are a big threat to us as farmers.

“The competition between processors to supply an ever-increasing demand for own-label milk is intense. As a result, there is a lot of downward pressure on prices.

“The costs involved in all-year round production is very different to the spring milk profile. 40c/L annualised is what we want. We need to sustain our business and pay a reasonable wage.

It’s a real worry that the North is a real competitor in the market. There were no imports in 1995 – now the North has 26% of the market.

Another farmer who gave his thoughts on the matter was Donal Kavanagh from Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow. Kavanagh milks 200 Holstein Friesian cows on 300ac (including rented ground), and has invested heavily over the past 10 years.

“Costs are increasing,” Kavanagh noted. “Dairy farmers need a reasonable standard of living and have to pay wages.

“We are now being expected to take less money even though we are investing heavily in the business.  There are also extra costs involved in the quality assurance process,” he added.

Ger Waters is a dairy farmer from Ballitore, who milks 300 Holstein Friesians on 300ac. “We can’t continue this situation with volatility and prices,” he said.

“We need to divert our milk away from this business if we are to continue milking 365 days of the year and investing €60,000-80,000 a year to keep the standard up. If it is to be quality produce, everything has to be right.

The supply of cream and butter in the winter, particularly over Christmas, will be difficult. Cream usage in December is the same as during the other 11 months, despite the fact that the least cows are milking.

“We’re at this [prices being attacked] since 1999 and we’re losing suppliers who will never come back.”

‘Producers deserve respect’

The IFA President, Joe Healy also spoke to AgriLand, saying that he hoped the retailers in question would see the need to treat their loyal producers with respect.

“It’s a race to the bottom and, no doubt, others will follow. There is a huge disrespect being shown to producers of top-quality milk.

We need to ensure adequate supplies of fresh milk going forward. In the last 15 years we have seen the number of fresh milk producing farmers drop from 3,500 to 1,800.

“The number of autumn-calvings in dairy herds – necessary for the production of fresh milk – has dropped by 8% at a time when overall calvings in dairy herds has increased by 16%.”

Speaking to the gathered crowd in Portlaoise, Healy said that they had met all the retailers on the issue, highlighting that it is a two to 3-year cycle, and that they wanted their support.

If retailers wanted to be sure of an adequate supply of fresh milk going forward, things had to change, the president said, adding that farmers would continue to fight.

The Chairman of the IFA’s National Liquid Milk Committee, John Finn, also spoke at the protest, noting that it was a serious problem.

He added that while he had spoken to all the retailers in the past few months, only lip-service was given and milk is being devalued.

When winter comes, the premium will not be there if this continues – a price war will start if things are not checked now, Finn said.