Belfast Telegraph

Dairy farm woes: 'The past 18 months have been hard and there's no sign of an upturn'

By Audrey Watson

Andrew Addison has been farming his 190-acre dairy farm in Upper Ballinderry for more than 30 years. It has been in his family for centuries and he hopes to pass the business and his 100-plus herd on to his son, William.

"Over the past few years, things have gradually been getting tighter and tighter," he says. "The base price for milk this month 19.15p per litre and the farmer gets paid 18p.

"That's 10p per litre less than what we were paid 12 months ago and less than it costs us to produce the milk.

"In summer, because of the milder climate, a litre of milk will cost me approx 24p to produce, but then in winter when the weather is worse and there is not as much grazing that can rise to 28p per litre.

"There's an oversupply of milk at the minute and lots of things that are beyond a farmer's control such as Russia's ban on the import of European dairy products - which has really affected Northern Ireland's cheese exports.

"The weak euro has also had a huge effect as exported milk and dairy products are not netting as much a return."

However, Andrew doesn't feel that the ending of the EU dairy quota system in April has exacerbated the situation.

"Yes, there is a global oversupply of milk, but I don't believe that's down to the ending of EU quotas," he said.

"This past year in particular, the climatic conditions here and in other countries have been perfect for milk production.

"In previous years, there has been drought in milk-producing regions and also flooding, but this year has been ideal.

"The abundant supply of milk has increased competition and pushed prices down all over the world.

"This past 16 or 18 months have been really hard and there doesn't seem to be any sign of an upturn.

"I know of farmers who have had enough and sold off all of their cows, because there is only so long you can hold out when things are so bad."

Much has been made of the contribution of supermarket price-squeezing to the current milk crisis, but this is only part of the problem, says Andrew.

"There are very few farmers in Northern Ireland who supply directly to supermarkets. I supply to a processor - United Dairy Farmers - who in turn use my milk to make products which they then sell to supermarkets," he said.

"It's the processing company that gets squeezed by the supermarkets, who use milk as a loss leader product and that then filters down to the farmer.

"But it's not just supermarkets; the food service sector also puts pressure on the processors to sell their products cheaply. By using imported products rather than locally-produced products, processing companies are under pressure to cut prices even more if they want to supply local products to local outlets.

"With 85% of Northern Ireland's dairy products being exported, the weak euro is having a devastating effect.

"The way the dairy industry is going at the moment is unsustainable. It's very worrying, I want to pass the farm down to my son, the way my father passed it down to me.

"I can only hope things do eventually improve."

Belfast Telegraph