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Semex Dairy Conference – Long Term View of UK Dairy Industry Needed 15/01/09

Leading dairy producer and former president of the Irish Farmers’ Association, Tom Clinton told delegates at the 2009 Semex Dairy Conference that he believed the UK dairy industry was well-placed to grow and prosper in the future, but admitted that a long term focus would be crucial given the challenges that lie ahead.

Tom Clinton

Tom Clinton
Mr Clinton, who has farming interests in Ireland, New Zealand and the US, visited a number of farms in the UK prior to the Conference, and admitted that he was very impressed with the standard of operations he witnessed. He also pointed to a number of advantages that he believes the UK holds over the Irish dairy industry, naming cheap land rent, cheap cereals and fertilisers, plentiful labour and a weak currency as examples. In fact, he professed to delegates that if he was going to invest in dairy farming anywhere in the world, he would choose England – more specifically the Shropshire or Cheshire regions.

However, he was quick to point out that over the next few years it would be extremely tough for UK dairy farmers, going as far as to describe the current economic downturn as ‘the start of one of the most serious depressions in the last 300 years.”

Mr Clinton admitted that current conditions are good, with UK farmers finally getting the price they deserve, but said that he doubted it would last. “With prices of less than 18p in Northern Ireland, and 22-23 cents in the Republic , I think the UK will find it impossible to maintain this price differential,” he said. “World trade will contract – experts are currently predicting a downturn of 3% this year. We will experience reduced demand, farmgate and retail prices will fall, and I believe we will see a fall in milk production short-term.”

Semex delegates were keen to question Mr Clinton on which country he had found to be the most profitable for milk production, but he said he was unable to give a straight answer. “The truth is the answer varies year by year as factors change. But if I had to pick a favourite – it might just be New Zealand as the conditions there are just perfect for dairy farming,” he said.

He continued to say that he believed UK farmers could learn a lot from their New Zealand counterparts, particularly in terms of making better use of grass and paddocks, and their approach to mastitis prevention and focus on improving heat detection.

He summed up by saying he had confidence in the future, and urged farmers to see all the plus points offered by the dairy industry, “We certainly face challenges, but if we look at the fortunes of the car industry compared with our own, all of a sudden we can feel a lot more secure and positive about the future. It’s hard work, but if you build good partnerships and take an opportunity when it comes your way, the rewards are plentiful.”

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