There will be catastrophic consequences for farming and the wider economy if the dairy industry in Northern Ireland is not insulated from the Covid-19 outbreak, Northern Ireland’s Dairy Council (DCNI) has warned.
It said the dairy industry in Northern Ireland is the cornerstone of the economy supporting more than 3,000 farm families, plus thousands of additional processing jobs and that the spread of COVID-19 has the potential to decimate the sector.
Anything that causes a hiccup in our supply chain could lead to less product being available to the consumers of Northern Ireland
Dr Mike Johnston, CEO of DCNI, said the dairy industry needs to be looked at in the same light as the healthcare and energy sectors in terms of critical importance to the economy.
Dr Johnston added that enormous efforts are being made by the country’s processors to ensure milk continues to be collected off-farm each day for processing and distribution.
However, Dr Johnston warned that unless all supports are given to the dairy industry then farmers and processors alike are facing into a bleak future.
“The spread of COVID19 is the single biggest threat to the Northern Ireland dairy industry and the wider society in several generations,” Dr Johnston said.
“If milk is not collected then farmers only have one option, dump that milk.
Pulling out all the stops
“Processors are pulling out all the stops and have taken it upon themselves to inform their farmers and hauliers on how best to halt the spread of COVD19 so milk can be collected and processed each day.
“Milk is a product that is taken from farms today and ends on kitchen tables tomorrow – it is a key component of a natural and healthy diet. Our supply chain is robust but yet so delicate that at this time of the year when milk production is approaching peak resources are stretched to the full. Anything that causes a hiccup in our supply chain could lead to less product being available to the consumers of Northern Ireland,” he warned.
The DCNI urged the UK government and the North’s executive to work hand-in-hand with the food industry to understand and to be proactive on the crisis.
It has a number of critical asks that must be put in place:
That the government give the dairy sector every possible support on an ongoing basis.
That the government gives protection to enable healthy staff to report to work daily in a safe manner.
All unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape for processors, hauliers and farmers need to be eliminated to keep the wheels of business turning.
Seamless movement of milk across the island of Ireland.
Farmers urged to make changes on farm
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) is urging farmers to be extra careful when interacting with essential farm visitors, including milk lorry and animal feed drivers.
Northern Ireland is taking measures to reduce the impact of coronavirus and it is vital that members are taking all precautions on-farm, as well as off-farm, to support these efforts.
Speaking on the matter of key farm visits, UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “Milk collections and feed deliveries are an integral part of the daily routine on farms. So much so that our farmers engage directly with drivers without thinking about the interaction.
“However, with the Covid-19 outbreak we’re urging our farmers to make changes to how they would normally assist essential farm visitors. Farmers and drivers should heed government recommendations about social distancing and ensure they’re always at least two metres apart. It is a simple measure which will make a huge difference in the battle against Covid-19.”
The UFU is asking farmers to take on board the following advice concerning milk collection and the animal feed delivery process:
Let drivers do their job in isolation and avoid unnecessary social contact.
Ensure that drivers have easy access to bulk tanks and feed bins.
Have clear identification and signage on farms will assist new drivers.
Livestock marts are another aspect of agricultural life that will involve change due to the outbreak. Marts across Northern Ireland are putting their own measures in place to help prevent the rapid spread of the infection.
Farmers who are planning on visiting their local mart should visit the mart’s Facebook page or contact it directly to find out how the process of sales will be conducted, the UFU advises.
“The agri industry needs to act now. We need to take every precaution we can to protect one another and help our healthcare professionals safeguard the people of Northern Ireland. By being extra careful as we carry out day-to-day farming tasks, we’re ensuring that the food supply chain operates without any glitches,” Ferguson said.