Dairy farmers to vote on strike action in protest at price of milk

Dairy farmers, many of whom took to the streets of Northern Ireland over milk prices, are to vote on strike action

DAIRY farmers will consider whether to strike a crisis meeting to be held next week.

Farm groups from across Northern Ireland will debate debate whether to down tools in protest at the price paid for milk by processors.

It comes as the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) called on processors to up their prices amid a surge in global markets.

At least four farming bodies are expected to at Monday's crisis meeting at the Glenavon Hotel in Cookstown.

James Lowe from the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers' Association (NIAPA) said the meeting was called with farmers "at the end of their tether trying to make ends meet with no attempt by the food corporates or processors to address the problem properly".

Dairy farmers in the Republic are receiving at least 25c per litre of milk produced while those in Britain are being given around 25p per litre.

John Martin from Holstein UK said co-operatives in the north could learn from the approach elsewhere in Europe.

"In France they are receiving 32c/l for October milk and Friesland Campina are paying dairy farmers 10c/l to reduce supply whilst in Northern Ireland it appears processors want an increase in supply," he said.

"With the French story and other UK regions including southern Ireland’s dairy farmers receiving considerably more for their milk, the time has come for Holstein UK to participate in the Cookstown crisis meeting.”

Meanwhile, UFU president Barclay Bell said dairy processes should explain why they are not increasing prices to farmers.

“What I am saying is a twist on the old adage to put up or shut up," he said.

"In this case, if they continue not to put up, in terms of higher prices, there is no justification for shutting up. They need to explain to farmers, whether they are members of a co-operative or not, why they are refusing to increase prices to reflect the better returns they are receiving."

The UFU said the case for an increase was put beyond question this week by the big increase in the Fonterra auction price in New Zealand.

It rose by more than 11 per cent, with whole milk powder, a key product for Northern Ireland, leading the auction upwards.

“This is the best barometer of world trade and it is pointing upwards," said Mr Bell,

"So too is the Milk Market Observatory in Brussels. No arguments can be put forward by processors here against a substantial and immediate price increase.

"If they continue holding back, farmers' only conclusion can be that processors are more interested in their own profits than in ensuring farmers have the prices and profitability they need to remain in business. And at the end of the day, without farmers willing to maintain supplies processors will not have a business."

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