Ulster Milk Quota Hand-out Targets Smaller Dairy Units

SMALL dairy farmers are being targeted for extra milk quota in Northern Ireland, provided under last years Agenda 2000 reform package.

In total the province is gaining an additional 1.2% of quota, with 12.24m litres to be allocated this milk year and a further 6.89m litres next year.

Announcing her decision, agriculture minister, Brid Rogers said that, due to the small volume involved, it should be given to active producers owning less than 250,000 litres in April 1999, in order to help them increase efficiency.

The move followed full consultation with the dairy sector. It is a demonstration of the new devolved administration at work in making a local decision based on local need and taking into account local factors.

But the Ulster Farmers Union, which maintains that all producers should have benefited, disputes this.

The UFU fought in Brussels for extra quota for all dairy farmers, said president, Douglas Rowe.

The minister has now picked an arbitrary figure beyond which farmers cannot qualify. This would set a dangerous precedent and would mean that many farmers, who had invested to expand their businesses, would be left empty-handed.

We dont have a problem with targeting social needs, said UFU milk adviser, Joe MacDonald. But basing it purely on the level of owned quota is incredibly simplistic. It takes no account of family farm income or levels of borrowing.

The union has written to Mrs Rogers asking for a justification. But assuming the decision stays, then the targeting will mean that those farmers who do benefit will get 3.6% more quota on a pro rata basis.

To have spread it more thinly would have had minimal impact, said a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman. As it is, almost 70% of producers will be getting more quota.

She estimated that an across the board share-out would have given producers just 800 litres per 50,000 litres owned. Targeting it meant beneficiaries would get 2400 litres per 50,000 litres owned, enough to milk two or three more cows on the average Northern Irish holding.

Meanwhile, Irelands dairy companies continue to raise the milk price paid to their suppliers.

Largest operator, Glanbia PLC, last week announced a 3p/gallon (0.54p/litre) increase for its June milk, reinstating the cut it imposed in March. Second biggest outfit, Dairygold, is paying an extra 1p/gallon (0.18p/litre) for its June milk.

Within a few weeks, co-op boards will be meeting again to set July prices, said Irish Farmers Association milk chairman, Padraig Walshe. I call on them to ensure that the full buoyancy of dairy markets, (which have increased by 5.4p/gallon since early May), is passed back to their fellow milk producers.

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