Six years on, ICMSA’s John Comer still fears milk price volatil­ity ’night­mare’

Irish Examiner - Farming - - NEWS - It’s not pos­si­ble to run a fam­ily farm with fixed or ris­ing costs against a back­ground where the milk price can swing from 22 cpl to 34 cpl in one year

could end up be­ing held hostage by an­other mem­ber state de­mand­ing that, for in­stance, their peo­ple have a free­dom of move­ment con­ces­sion from the UK sim­i­lar to the one we’ll pre­sum­ably con­tinue to en­joy.

I want to be­lieve that Ire­land’s in­ter­ests are front and cen­tre and, in fair­ness to Mr Barnier [the EU’s chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor], he has been con­sis­tent on this.

But I re­cently had to take is­sue pub­licly with a prom­i­nent French farm leader who stated that his mem­bers could not ac­cept an open bor­der be­tween North and South, over which non-EU im­ports could move freely.

This is ex­actly what I fear, that oth­ers, through no real fault of their own, just can’t ap­pre­ci­ate that a hard bor­der would be dis­as­trous for the farm­ing and agri-food sec­tors, as well as rais­ing is­sues that we had left be­hind, with huge dif­fi­culty and sac­ri­fice by all sides.

I have to say that the course be­ing pur­sued by the Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment seems to me to be the right one. We have to make all other par­ties, whether in the UK or the EU, un­der­stand that the preser­va­tion of our cen­turies old, multi-bil­lioneuro food trade with the UK on a tar­iff-free ba­sis is a cen­tral na­tional strate­gic ob­jec­tive. There’s one other as­pect of Brexit that needs to be em­pha­sised.

The CAP Post 2020 will have to be main­tained at present lev­els of fund­ing, at least. That means that the re­main­ing Mem­ber States, in­clud­ing Ire­land, will have to make good the UK con­tri­bu­tion.

I’ve said it from the first day of my Pres­i­dency of ICMSA, and I’ll go on re­peat­ing it to my last: CAP and di­rect pay­ments are not a sub­sidy to the farmer, they are ac­tu­ally a sub­sidy to the retailers, that en­ables EU con­sumers to buy the high­est qual­ity food, pro­duced to the high­est stan­dards of sus­tain­abil­ity, at a price that does not suf­fi­ciently re­ward the farmer. These farmer di­rect pay­ments are the cost of the EU’s ‘cheap food’ pol­icy.

You’ve de­scribed ex­ces­sive milk price volatil­ity as a “night­mare” for dairy farm­ers. What’s needed to solve this prob­lem?

>> “Night­mare” is not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. It’s not pos­si­ble to run a fam­ily farm with fixed or ris­ing costs against a back­ground where the milk price can swing from 22cpl to 34cpl in one year. Where you can go from hav­ing no in­come what­so­ever in one year to a rea­son­able level of in­come the next year, while rais­ing your fam­ily at the same time. Farm­ers don’t want a peakand-trough model. ICMSA cer­tainly doesn’t want that. How can you plan any busi­ness on that ba­sis? How do you in­vest or bor­row?

We need a mech­a­nism that ad­dresses in­come volatil­ity, and that’s why ICMSA has rec­om­mended a num­ber of ini­tia­tives to the De­part­ments of Fi­nance and Agri­cul­ture, Food & the Marine.

One is a Farm Man­age­ment De­posit Scheme that al­lows farm­ers to put away funds in good years in a of­fi­cial and tax-com­pli­ant de­posit scheme, that they can draw down in bad years, when price volatil­ity, or price falls, mean that in­come dis­ap­pears.

We think it’s a mea­sured and work­able model that will tackle the night­mare, and we’re qui­etly con­fi­dent that our ar­gu­ments have been heard, and might bear fruit in next month’s bud­get.

ICMSA pres­i­dent John Comer on his farm at Bal­ly­vary, Castle­bar, Co Mayo: as he ap­proaches the end of his six years as pres­i­dent, he says we must make all other par­ties to Brexit un­der­stand that pre­serv­ing our cen­turies old, multi­bil­lion-euro, tar­iff-free food trade with the UK is a cen­tral na­tional strate­gic ob­jec­tive.

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