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Pat McCormack
This is my inaugural column as president of the Irish
Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) and, before
I write another word, I want to acknowledge the work and
efforts of my predecessor John Comer. The best compliment
you can pay anyone in these circumstances is to say that
they built on existing strengths and added news ones, and
he most certainly did that. On every subject material to our
membership, John's comments were measured, rational and
reasonable, but they were also forthright and left no listener
in any doubt about our ability or willingness to step in and
defend the interests of our family farmer membership. That
is his legacy, and it is one that I intend building upon to the
best of my humble efforts.
We will always be rational, we will always look for a positive
solution, we will always see how our analysis feeds into the
wider and bigger socio-economic picture. But, equally, we
will always insist that the people producing our food and
most specifically, the people producing our milk who are
the foundation stones of Ireland's multi-billion-euro food
sector, receive a proper income, commensurate with their
skill, workload and the time and capital invested to produce
our food, some of the world's best.
If anyone imagines that ICMSA's commitment to achieving
what we deem to be a proper milk price will flag, or that the
2017 recovery after the price collapse of 2015 / 16 has, in any
way, blunted our determination to focus on this, allow me
to state here and now, in one of my first articles as president
of ICMSA, that our determination on this issue has actually
increased. It is no longer tolerable if ever it was to have
a situation where, when milk prices rise, everyone in the
dairy supply chain prospers, but when milk prices fall, only
the farmer-supplier is wiped out. If everyone shares in the
strengthening market, then everyone should share the pain
when the market wanes. That is most assuredly not what
happened during the 2015 / 16 collapse, when milk price paid
to farmers fell below the cost of production for a prolonged
period without any similar fall in the prices being paid by
consumers for any dairy products. So, far from the `pain'
being shared, our members had to look at other elements in
the supply-chain actually increasing their margins while the
farmers producing the milk were losing money on a daily
basis and went a year without any income whatsoever from
their dairying operation.
2015 / 16 proved two things, absolutely: firstly, that the
current supply-chain mechanism is effectively controlled by
the group of multi-national corporate retailers who, because
they sell food cheaply to EU urban consumers, have been
allowed by successive Commissions to `rig' the market.
Any time that their control became too obvious and the
Commission mentioned regulating margins along the supply-
chain, these gigantic corporations would murmur something
about that would trigger food-inflation. The Commission
would get the message and back down speedily. That looks
to have changed and in EU Commissioner for Agriculture
and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, we seem to finally
found someone who's going to call the corporate bluff. He
has indicated that he is unhappy about the record of margin-
grabbing demonstrated by the multi-national retailers and
he can point to the decades-long pattern that has Europe's
small family farmers disappearing and food production
increasingly becoming a corporate activity, with all the rural
depopulation and specific socio-economic challenges that
brings. This is going to be a prolonged campaign because
these retail corporations have huge influence and we can
expect nerves to be tested as the retailers threaten food price
rises if their right to set supply-chain margins is interfered
with. This debate is going to become even more charged in
the years immediately ahead and ICMSA will spare no effort
to make sure the full facts and the inescapable conclusions
are put before the policymakers. This is potentially a `game-
changer' in terms of farmer income and our efforts will be
proportionate to that reality.
In the shorter term, we will redouble our efforts through
our involvement with European Milk Board to making the
Voluntary Supply Reduction Scheme (VSRS) part of the
Common Agricultural Policy `tool box'. We were alone in
advocating it as a response to the price collapse, and the
way it stabilised supply and immediately began to rally
prices fully vindicated our decision. This is a proven policy
and one, moreover, that allows the ultimate decision on
participation to rest with the individual farmer. Obviously,
ICMSA wants to deal with the volatility that everyone knows
is the greatest threat to viable family farms, but while we're
waiting for the politicians and Commission to step up to
their responsibility on margins and excessive bureaucracy,
we want to see the VSRS made a permanent feature of
EU dairy policy and we want to see the Irish Government
adopt the Farm Management Deposit Scheme that every
sane observer recommended to them in the last Budget as
a method of allowing farmers to put money away in `good'
times and access it in `bad' times, all in a tax-compliant and
Revenue-supervised manner.
I ask you for your help and support and I promise you
unstinting effort.
New president of Irish Creamery Milk
Suppliers Association: Pat McCormack
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