COMMENT: It’s hard to believe that the Spring of 2014 has arrived. Irish dairy farmers have been rightly concerned about the extreme variations on margins over the past year or so. And this week’s news form the Fonterra auction is further confirmation of the reality that international dairy markets can go down, as well as up.

But, hopefully, the Fonterra trends witnessed over the past two weeks simply represent a slight realignment of the market. Commentators within the dairy sector remain hopeful that 2014 will bring a degree of welcome stability back to the milk sector, after the somewhat challenging year that was 2013. After all, many milk producers are still paying back the additional costs incurred last Spring.

Dairy farming remains at the very heart of our rural economy. If milk production is not profitable, herd owners stop spending money and the knock-on effects throughout every town and village across Ireland are palpable. There’s no other sector of agriculture that can generate such a regular cash flow.

What’s more, small increases in milk price can make that all-important difference between profitability and loss. This is why it is so important for dairy farmers to continually strive for better milk quality. A case in point is the current debate on whether to meal feed cows at grass. All the evidence points to the fact that the targeted feeding of concentrates can significantly improve milk butterfat and protein throughout the grazing season.

Our politicians should also be mindful of the fact that dairy farming is the power house of agriculture in Ireland. Apart from the jobs created on farm, the sector also underpins thousands more at the processing level.

Most commentators firmly believe that food production has a bright future. Global food output will have to double over the next 20 years, if the world’s projected population is to be fed. Significantly, demand for dairy products, particularly in developing countries, is set to rise at a proportionately higher level.

In Ireland we have the land and a dairy farming sector with the potential to avail of this opportunity. What’s required is the creation of the right infrastructure to make it happen. And it is in this context that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney can make all the difference.