Chairperson of Limerick ICMSA, Thomas Blackburn, has urged local milk suppliers to “make haste slowly” as the era of milk quotas came to an end on April 1.
The date was April Fools’ Day and the last thing farmers want to become is busy fools - working harder for the same income. National milk production is predicted to embark on double-digit, year-on-year growth, from its present multi-billion euro base, and Limerick - which already accounts for 9% of the total production - is expected to be at the forefront.
But the Effin farmer has urged farmers to disregard ‘hurlers on the ditch’ advising them to borrow whatever levels of funding are required to ‘scale-up’.
“I think we can look forward with the degree of optimism founded on calm rational calculation and our technical excellence. But ICMSA has always disliked the ‘White Gold’ hype indulged in by some commentators and commodity speculators.
“We should ‘make haste slowly’, act prudently, and always mindful of the fact it is the farmer who has to invest the money necessary to expand and it is the farmer - and the farmer alone - whose income will depend on milk price.
“I’d like my fellow farmers to keep that in the front of their mind as we listen to those telling us to go on and borrow as much as we need to expand because the growing demand for dairy means that supplying milk is going to the agri equivalent of a ‘sure thing’. We’ll see about that and we’ve reason to be confident about our sector’s marketing expertise.
“But farmers must always remember that if that demand doesn’t materialise and milk price stalls or – God forbid – goes back then all those people telling us to borrow and scale-up just shrug their shoulders and move on to the next great white hype.
“We’ll be the ones left with the bank loans and we all know how understanding the banks will be in those situations. The decisive question is this: will the income of the milk supplier increase?
“If it doesn’t, or if the milk supplier is working harder - milking more cows for the same income - then as far as ICMSA is concerned the whole exercise is pointless,” he said.
Mr Blackburn said that very complex and intense schedules had been operated and organised by Limerick milk suppliers in the run-up to midnight on 31 March to collect milk from under-quota suppliers, while those farmer ‘over-quota’ were holding or storing their milk until after midnight, thus attempting to escape punitive superlevy which ICMSA estimated will take probably in excess of €80 million out of the rural economy.
He described the maintenance of the whole system right to the last minute as the “height of absurdity” and said that the level of fines should have been stepped-down or gradually reduced over the last two or three years.
The end of quotas should be good for Limerick but that could only happen if producing more milk was good for Limerick farmers, he concluded.