The Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) has hit out at those who “preach sustainability” to farmers, while leaving them in a position while they are not “economically sustainable.”
The statement comes as the group’s President, Pat McCormack, warned that Irish milk prices have fallen to levels “well below” the European norm since the start of the year.
“Milk processors and their representative organisations are very good at preaching sustainability to farmers,” he said.
“But since January 2023, milk prices have fallen to levels well below the EU average and to a level where many dairy producers are now producing milk below the cost of production.
“That wipes out dairy farmers, and highlights the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the ‘sustainability’ debate: if you’re not economically sustainable then every other type of ‘sustainability’ becomes irrelevant.”
McCormack said that there was a “contradiction” in the sustainability debate, which he dubbed “stark.”
“If the people demanding sustainability can’t or won’t pay a sustainable price then this becomes a meaningless exercise,” he said.
“That’s where we were in 2016 and that’s pretty well exactly where we are now in 2023. This is the breaking point for dairy farmers, and we are here again.”
The ICMSA President noted that in 2016, when milk prices went to “unsustainable” levels, the EU Commission introduced a payment of 14 cents per kg of milk for every litre less a farmer produced compared to the previous year. He called the measure “spectacularly successful.”
“Within weeks of its introduction, milk processors in Ireland went from a scenario of talking down prices, to actually increasing milk prices the immediately following month,” he said.
“Processors need milk volumes for their processing plants and customers, and the scheme compelled the processors to confront the truth that they cannot expect farmers to continue to produce that milk at a loss – it forced the processors to pay the price that guaranteed their supply of milk.”
McCormack said that he has “no doubt” but that Agriculture Minister Minister Charlie McConalogue already knows that the Commission will be considering the introduction of a similar scheme.
“He should actively express support for the idea,” he said.
“We are in the same place where the processors are happy to ignore reality – and it looks like they are going to have to be forced to face that reality in the same way.”