The local group, featuring dairy farmers from Rathgormack, Kilmeaden and Cappagh took this action due to the drop in milk prices, brought about by what the ICMSA described as “mistaken Government and EU policies”.
The way forward, in ICMSA President Jackie Cahill’s assessment, must be twin-tracked.
“That involves structural reform and short-term measures and – more than anything else – it means everyone in the sector facing up to the reality of the situation that the milk sector is in,” he said.
“Does anyone seriously think that farmer suppliers will continue to supply milk at below-cost prices? Does anyone think it’s fair to see farmers milking cows twice a day and losing money twice a day – losing money, mark you! Not even breaking even. That’s some business plan!”
Mr Cahill stated he had no problem with dairy company executives “recognising market realities” and that directing such firms and co-ops represented “a very complicated matter”.
However, he admitted problems with the notion that a viable sector could be maintained by dairy farmers “who have to accept payment that is actually below the cost of production”.
“It’s not very wise to plan the future of a milk-based food processing company in a situation where the people supplying the milk are now suffering a loss on a daily basis,” Mr Cahill added.
“While short term measures are required, we must recognise that these are sticking plaster solutions which will not resolve the underlying problem.”
The structural surplus of milk production within the EU was the “underlining problem” for the sector, according to Mr Cahill.
“This is manifested most obviously in butter and skim milk power – and the lack of supports to absorb that surplus,” he continued.
“The problem has been magnified because of the depressed markets due to lower demand and higher production.
The long term solution is to unravel the nonsense that the Irish and European dairy sector could be unregulated and that quota abolition was the way forward.”
So what needs to be done right away, in Jackie Cahill’s view?
“Substantial product must be taken off the European market through a combination of export refunds, which will remove volumes of butter, and the reinstatement of the Calf Milk Replacer, which is legally provided for in the current EU regulations.”
Regulation of the sector is the only way that profitable dairying can now be secured, a view shared by “virtually dairy farmers,” he said.
“We are reaping the pain of the policy madness that held that there was a natural market for unlimited production.”
That regulation and stability in the sector was required was now beyond dispute and this had to be realised urgently by EU farm ministers, Mr Cahill said. “We must be part of that process,” he stated.