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UFU dairy committee lobby for COVID-19 support

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) dairy committee held a virtual meeting last night (17 June) to discuss the £25m support package for the agri-food sector, that is earmarked for sectors specifically impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The dairy industry is one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic, evident by the substantial fall in local base milk prices. 

The UFU have been lobbying for much-needed support to stabilise Northern Ireland’s (NI) dairy industry. Speaking after the meeting, UFU dairy chairman Mervyn Gordon said, “Northern Ireland’s exposure to global dairy commodity prices meant that NI farmgate prices took a direct hit following the lockdown restrictions in Asia that severely impacted their markets as early as January/February 2020. This was accelerated further by the lockdown in Europe and here in the UK, specifically in NI. Farmgate prices collapsed as processors immediately reduced the milk price and dairy farmers have been struggling to keep their farm businesses afloat during these unprecedented times. However, despite the challenges that every dairy farmer across NI faced, as essential key workers they have been persistent, playing their part in the battle against COVID-19. Our members have been doing everything they can to keep business as close to normal as possible to continue delivering for consumers, ensuring milk and other dairy products were produced and reached shop shelves.”

Since early May commodity prices have gradually began to improve but this has not been replicated with justifiable returns. The return of the foodservice sector has seen a surge in demand for butter, with product starting to leave Private Storage Aid to meet contract obligations, a big move since the processor will forgo any subsidy payment for early release of stock from stores. However, despite these factors being combined with local grass growth being below average meaning a dramatic drop in milk production, local processors have at best held prices this month.

“We are calling upon the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister Edwin Poots, to make a decision regarding the allocation of support on the basis of the evidence presented and to deliver appropriate funding to farms as quickly as possible so farm businesses affected by COVID-19 can begin recovery. This is essential to ensure the dairy industry pulls through this pandemic in a sustainable position and can build towards a brighter future alongside the other agri sectors,” said Mr Gordon. 

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