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Soaring butter prices and Brexit on menu at Belfast dairy summit

By Chris McCullough

A shortage of milk will further escalate rising butter prices, the World Dairy Summit has heard.

Speaking at the event, which is being held in Belfast this week, Veronique Pilet, chief economist at French Dairy Inter-branch Organisation Cniel, said milk is in short supply across Europe and this is having a knock-on effect on the availability of butter and increasing its price.

"We have witnessed a reduction in the supply of milk across Europe and beyond, which in turn is reducing the availability of butter," Ms Pilet told delegates.

"This shortage, together with more consumers moving towards more natural products and increasing demand, is forcing the price of butter up."

Butter prices surged by 14% in June to an all-time high and is now hovering around £5,300 per tonne.

During the conference, Northern Ireland dairy farmers were urged to "innovate, co-operate and follow market signals" if they want to remain profitable in the industry.

Delegates met in Belfast's Waterfront Hall for the opening ceremony addressed by Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan, among others.

With the UK dairy industry turning over £27.8bn a year and supporting 70,000 jobs, there are fears that any Brexit negotiations could hurt the current state of the sector and its potential in the future.

Mr Gove told the delegates the government is committed to supporting the dairy industry in the UK.

He continued that during Brexit negotiations, the UK Government wants to ensure that supply lines are solid, no barriers to trade are erected and labour can be accessed where it is needed. "This will be at the forefront of our minds," said Mr Gove.

He added: "The key to a profitable dairy industry will be to ensure we have the correct levels of investment into innovation to ensure our farmers can be as efficient as they can be in the future."

He also announced that the government was opening up a £40m fund to support innovation in the dairy industry and other agri sectors as well as to enhance welfare standards.

Meanwhile, EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan told the audience "farmers need to innovate, co-operate and follow market signals" if they wanted to remain a profitable business.

He also spoke about the effects Brexit will have on the dairy industry and said the issue of free movement of people was "a difficult issue for the UK and for the EU for different reasons, and will require negotiations".

The summit continues until Friday, focusing on various aspects of the industry.

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