Members of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) staged a protest over the price of milk at Dunnes Stores and Aldi in Portlaoise today.
Over 50 members of the IFA travelled from all over the country to tell the public that the low price of milk in supermarkets is a “race to the bottom” and "not sustainable".
Speaking to the Leinster Express, Chairman of the IFA National Liquid Milk Committee, John Finn said that the supermarket deals on milk is going to create a “liquid milk war”.
“Dunnes is using liquid milk as a loss leader and they have been selling six litres for €4 for some time now. Unfortunately Aldi has joined them in selling three litres for €2 now that is a totally different offering and it is one that is probably far more suitable to families so it is going to create a liquid milk war between the other supermarkets as well.
“The loser in any liquid milk war is the farmers at the end of the day.
“We see it as a real threat to the liquid milk industry that Dunnes have been doing this for some time and Aldi have in the last few days. It is a race to the bottom and it is going to create a price war if the other retailers decide to join in.
“Milk is a really healthy product, they are using it as a loss leader to get people into the store, probably, or to gain market share.
“They have got to find other ways to get their market share rather than using milk as a loss leader. They have done the same with vegetables and there are very few vegetable growers left in the country at this stage as a result.
“It is just not economical or sustainable to stay producing milk, vegetable or any perishable foods when they are being sold basically below cost prices,” he said.
Around 90 percent of milk in the country is produced by creamery milk suppliers. There is a difference between them and liquid milk farmers.
“We just want to have a peaceful protest so we can get some public awareness that milk is being sold as a loss leader and that it is really not the way to go.
“We want to make the public aware that for liquid milk farmers to have a sustainable income, milk can’t be used as a loss leader in shops.
“Manufacturing milk the price is very volatile. Manufacturing milk is produced between February and October so the cost is much lower so liquid milk is produced November, December, January and February that can’t be produced off grass because grass doesn't grow during those four months,” he said.
It costs a lot more to feed the animals for liquid milk. Farmers would need to be getting 40 cent a litre every month to sustain their income.
Local Laois farmers attended the protest as well as farmers from all over the country.
Kevin Flynn is a liquid milk farmer from Clonaslee who was at the protest.
“We are all here today because we don’t want to see milk devalued and when milk is given away on a two for one basis it affects the producer at the end of the day, someone has to pay for it and it certainly won’t be the supermarkets so we are trying to stop this, it doesn’t make sense to us, producers have to be paid for their produce and that is really at the bottom of it.
"It is very early days but they have started and we need to stop it because we feel it is wrong it is about the sustainability of liquid milk for winter, producing it during the high cost winter months.
"It is about acknowledging that it costs a lot of money to produce milk and everyone needs a fair return, they need a fair return but giving away milk, someone has to pay for that and it will eventually come back to the producer like all these things.
"If you were working for two hours and getting paid for one, it is just not sustainable. At this stage it hasn’t hit the producers yet but inevitably it will hit the producers,” he said.
Bill Kelly from Portlaoise is a liquid milk producer during the winter months.
“We produce milk all year round, the winter now is looming, we are getting ready with cows calving to produce milk right through the winter months and that is a high cost time.
“We can’t get any free milk from the cow, the point is we don't want to see milk thrown away or two for one offers here in the supermarket because we can’t sustain that.
“We feel that if that happens here in the supermarket the consumer might benefit in the short term but we are going to lose in the long term.
“It is not everybody who produces milk during the winter, it is a sort of a specialist job and you can’t just turn it on and off you have to plan in advance to have cows calving to produce a steady flow of milk during the winter, we would like to stay in that business but if the margins are cut it won’t be sustainable,” he said.