The Ulster Farmers’ Union have described dairy processors’ plans to block future engagement with them as ‘bizarre’ after criticising them for failing to pass on financial gains to dairy farmers, who are currently struggling.
UFU deputy president, Ivor Ferguson said dairy processors did not understand how angry farmers feel.
After more than 18 months of struggling with prices below the cost of production, the union criticised the failure of processors to pass on better milk market returns to farmers.
Dairy UK and Dale Farm then said it planned to block future engagement with the union, with Dale Farm Group CEO Nick Whelan saying he was surprised with the tone used.
“Far from refusing to engage with that organisation, I made it an early priority to meet UFU leaders and brief them on Dale Farm’s intention to significantly increase the price we can pay to our members over the coming months, as the market delivered,” Mr Whelan said.
Mr Ferguson then said farmers are right to demand that processors ‘dig deeper’ to give them the full benefit of the fall in the value of sterling and improving global markets.
“If they cannot do so, they need to explain to their members why this is the case and also when they can expect to see price increases. For the organisation that represents processors to respond to criticism by refusing to engage with the body that represents their farmer suppliers is, quite frankly, childish posturing,” he said.
Dairy UK (NI) has claimed that the UFU’s criticism of their members was ‘unhelpful and unjustified’.
An angry Mr Ferguson said: “I have to tell them we are not there to be helpful to processors. We are there to help farmers, and their action is evidence that processors do not understand the financial pain and angry mood of the farmers that supply the milk that keeps them in business.
“If Dairy UK (NI) believes our criticism is unjustified that is a different matter, but in a rational business world people debate their differences. They do not simply walk away.”
He added that in criticising processors the UFU was responding to concerns raised by many dairy farmer members supplying all dairy processors.
The UFU deputy president said Dale Farm had also decided not to engage with the UFU.
“That is their choice, but as a farmer owned cooperative, I hope they are aware that many of their members are also members of the UFU.
“These producers have been pushing for us to take a tougher line – and I would urge them to make clear to Dale Farm that blocking engagement with the organisation that represents farmers is the wrong stance for any cooperative,” said Mr Ferguson.
The UFU has confirmed it will not be attending the milk meeting in Cookstown, but has said the fact that it is happening and also that many producers are considering sending their milk to processors operating in Great Britain is further evidence of the hurt and anger felt by dairy farmers across Northern Ireland.
“Farmers see dairy commodity prices rising, in some cases to record levels, while milk production is falling, yet our dairy farmers are still receiving a base price below the cost of production,” said Mr Ferguson.