Farmers take protests over milk prices to Brussels

Teagasc says prices have fallen from 39c per litre in April 2014 to 25.5c in July 2015

Phil Hogan: the EU’s agriculture commissioner will not attend due to illness. Photograph: Eric Luke

Phil Hogan: the EU’s agriculture commissioner will not attend due to illness. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Thousands of farmers are expected to descend on Brussels today as EU agriculture ministers meet to discuss the crisis in the dairy industry that has seen the price of milk plummet in recent months.

European agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan will not attend the meeting due to illness. Instead, EU vice-President Jyrki Katainen will represent the Irish Commissioner, who has been in hospital with a viral stomach infection.

Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) will join farmers from across the EU for the protest outside the agriculture council meeting.

The emergency meeting of EU agriculture ministers, which will be attended by Irish minister for agriculture Simon Coveney, has been called to address the fall in dairy and other grain and livestock sectors. The impact of Russian sanctions, the slowdown in the Chinese economy and the abolition of EU milk quotas earlier this year have resulted in a dramatic fall in milk prices. According to Teagasc, the price of milk has fallen from a high of 39c per litre in April 2014 to 25.5c in July 2015.

It is expected that the European Commission may announce a support package of up to €300 million for the dairy sector, funded by the super-levies imposed on farmers by the EU for over-quota production – a key demand of the Irish government and farming associations. Early payment of direct farm payments is also under consideration, as well as an extension of a number of support schemes for farmers.

Sanction

John Comer

Noting that while milk prices to dairy farmers have fallen by 35 per cent, he said that consumers are paying almost exactly the same for milk, butter and cheese products as a year ago.

“We’re left with the gigantic food retail corporations who are managing the oversupply situation on the global market in a way that “bricks-off” their margins from market volatility while wiping-out farmers’ income,” he said. The IFA, which led a protest outside the European Commission’s offices in Dublin last Monday, has called for a 70 per cent advance on the basic farm payment as well as an increase in the intervention threshold to reflect increased production costs.

That advance payment should include the basic and greening payments, the organisation has said.

Input costs

Eddie DowneyEurope

“It is vital that farm ministers take action to ensure the EU Single Market is working properly,” he said.

Protests by farmers have been taking place across different countries in the EU, including France, Britain, Belgium, Germany and the Baltic States. On Friday representatives of the Ulster Farmers’ Union demonstrated outside Stormont. Last month, protests by farmers in England led to four of the main retailers increasing the price they pay farmers for milk.

Mr Coveney met Mr Hogan late last month to discuss the milk crisis, with the agriculture commissioner continuing contacts with individual EU ministers last week in an attempt to formulate a package that will be acceptable to member states before today’s meeting.

Belgian authorities are expecting widespread traffic disruption today in the capital, with protesters expected to gather at Gare du Nord before making their way to the European Council headquarters in east of the city centre.