The proposed Voluntarily Milk Reduction Scheme will not benefit Northern Ireland’s dairy industry in the long-term, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union dairy policy committee chairman, William Irvine.

It comes following the news of the EU Commission’s €500m aid package for farmers, which includes €150m to support a voluntary reduction in milk supply and €350m in national envelopes.

The comments were made following a meeting of the UFU’s dairy policy committee, which is made up of members from across Northern Ireland, organised specifically to discuss the recently announced aid package.

“We still don’t have all specifics in regards to the practical details of the schemes outlined in the EU Commission’s aid package but already the committee has serious concerns in relation to the scheme to support a voluntary reduction in milk supply.

“Spread across 28 member states, €150m is not likely to stretch far enough to provide meaningful financial support to farmers. The committee has also questioned the logic behind the initial proposed reference point chosen by the Commission,” Irvine said.

Dairy farmers usually receive their winter bonuses in the last three months of the year but there are fears that the payment coming from the voluntary reduction scheme could be less than the winter bonus, leaving farmers out of pocket.

Ultimately, it will be up to individual farmers as to whether or not taking part in the voluntary reduction scheme is the best course of action for their businesses.

“However, our concern is that farmers here sacrifice milk output for a small amount of compensation, only to find that because others have not done so and then income is lost for no increase in the milk price,” said Irvine,

Irvine also voiced his concerns regarding the level of support the aid package has received across EU member states

“It is a risky strategy, since it is apparent key member states are not willing to back this approach. It has been clear in our discussions with other farm organisations, through COPA (European Farmers Association), that support for any supply reduction programme is, at best, lukewarm,” Irvine said.

The UK will receive €30.1m as part of the national envelope section of the aid package, which was welcomed by the dairy policy committee as a means of easing cash flow pressure on farms.

In terms of the €350m national envelope component of the aid package, of which the UK will receive €30.1m, the committee welcomed this as a means of easing cash flow pressure on farms.

“We are still awaiting details around the national envelope scheme but already Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, Michelle McIlveen, has warned of ‘complex strings attached’, which could delay support and this is a cause for concern,” Irvine said.