A voluntary milk supply reduction scheme, a measure introduced by the European Commisson to solve the dairy crisis, has been labelled ‘more smoke and mirrors’ than a realistic policy by UFU President Ian Marshall.

The UFU President said that he is encouraged by key parts of the Commission’s plan to tackle the crisis on agricultural markets.

These include a boost for dairy intervention, additional private storage for pigmeat and a longer term focus on supporting exports and European Investment Bank (EIB) funding for agriculture.

“Along with other farm lobby organisations in Europe we had lobbied for action on intervention.

“The increase in the volumes of butter and skim milk powder that can be bought in by Brussels will ease some of the pressure – but like others we are disappointed the price hasn’t been reviewed.”

Marshall said that the decision to look at ways to reopen private storage for pigmeat was a welcome commitment from the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, but warned that both were about easing short-term pressure rather than a much needed realignment of milk and pig output with demand.

The UFU has come out to says that it does not believe the short term scheme to allow cooperatives and farmers to negotiate milk supply reductions will prove effective.

“This did not command much support during the negotiations. It is voluntary – and that means reductions by some will be offset by others seeing this as an opportunity to increase production.

“More fundamentally there is no funding for compensation, unless it comes from member states, and that is a remote prospect in the UK.”

Marshall said however the action was at least a recognition that ways had to be found to better align milk production with demand.

The Commission and ministers made clear there would be no return of milk quotas or other supply management controls.

“We must find new ways to tackle volatility – and I welcome confirmation that the agri-markets task-force brief will be extended to take that on board as a priority.”

Marshall said other things in the package were welcome, including the creation of a meat market observatory to improve transparency.

“It is now up to us as farm lobby organisations in Europe to make this as effective as possible.”

New EU support must make meaningful difference to farmers

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Michelle O’Neill has noted that the EU’s additional package of measures to support farmers in crisis but cautioned that any meaningful difference needs to be felt by farmers immediately.

“I have strenuously pushed for immediate support for our hard-pressed farmers.

“Both are well aware of my ongoing concern that, if the current situation continues, an increasing number of farmers will be forced to leave the industry, impacting on both its long term future and that of our rural economy.”

While I note the measures announced yesterday, the effectiveness will be judged on any real and immediate difference it makes to farmers who are currently struggling to make ends meet.

O’Neill said that Commissioner Hogan has initiated an additional suite of actions aimed at addressing the long term stability and sustainability of the farm sector.

“In particular, I note Commissioner Hogan’s intention to double the intervention ceilings for skimmed milk powder and butter to 218,000t and 100,000t respectively, as well as his suggestion to consider a further private storage aid scheme for pigmeat.”

“I acknowledge that the Commission has today also indicated its willingness to work with the European Investment Bank EIB so that our farmers and processors can access much needed finance for investment to improve the competitiveness of their businesses or make any necessary structural adjustments, and the plans to examine the feasibility of an export credit scheme.

“We need to see concrete proposals coming forward quickly from EIB so that our industry can avail of additional support as soon as possible.”