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The Board of Lakeland Dairies met with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue on Thursday (11th April) at its monthly meeting.

Minister McConalogue gave an overview of the current political and regulatory landscape while the Lakeland Dairies’ Board questioned the Minister on topics including the Nitrates Derogation, VAT rebate and encouraging the next generation of farmers to take up dairying as a profession.

The Minister was joined by the Department’s Assistant Secretary General Colm Hayes while the Lakeland Dairies management team led by Group CEO Colin Kelly were also in attendance.

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Lakeland Dairies’ Chairperson Niall Matthews thanked Minister McConalogue for his time but expressed his concern regarding dairy farmers’ confidence in the current Government.

“It was an honour to welcome the Minister for Agriculture to our Board meeting this week. It was a very open and frank discussion on a range of issues and we all thank the Minister for his openness. We acknowledged the Minister’s role in delivering the world-first genotyping programme.]

“However, confidence among farmers is especially low. The persistent inclement weather coupled with policy and regulatory pressures has created massive uncertainty and concern among dairy farmers.

“In particular, the huge uncertainty around the Nitrates Derogation has left farmers wondering what the future is for them.

“We made it very clear to Minister McConalogue that we have great concerns over the Government’s strategy around the Nitrates Derogation and what its plan is for maintaining it. For us, it appears that there is no plan, there is no strategy in place to protect it. It is not all on farmers to protect what allows us to maximise our truly unique grass-based system. We aren’t like Germany, France or the Netherlands. We are unique and this needs to be recognised and protected.

“We also told the Minister that farmer confidence in the Government has been shaken by the VAT rebate issue as well as its approach to encouraging young farmers into farming and the lack of supports deployed for farmers.”

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Following the meeting, Lakeland Dairies Group CEO Colin Kelly said:

“We thank the Minister and his officials for engaging with Lakeland Dairies this week. The Irish dairy industry is going through one the greatest periods of evolution in its history. The co-operative movement has shown its agility and strength since the removal of quotas to become a real powerhouse on the global stage. After a decade of significant growth driven by a latent demand at farm level to expand, which was supported by farmers’ co-ops, the next decade will see less expansion. That is why Government must continue to back and support our multi-billion-euro industry. The dairy industry is the jewel in the crown of a balanced regional economy and its importance in this regard cannot be overestimated.”