The dairy industry in Northern Ireland needs to debate innovative changes as to how farmers are paid for milk, according to the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Speaking after its recent dairy conference, the chairman of the UFU Dairy Committee, William Irvine, said there was a good case for looking at a payment system that rewarded farmers on the basis of the end product produced from their milk.

“This will not be an overnight change, but it is one that needs to move up the agenda,” Irvine added.

“We need to be considering a system based around a much wider definition of milk quality. This is about price accurately reflecting the quantity and value of the dairy products made from the milk a farmer supplies,” he said.

The committee chairman, a Co. Armagh dairy farmer himself, said this is a long-term goal and one that would involve big changes to diet and how cows are managed.

However, he stressed that if change is to be delivered in the future, the debate with milk buyers needs to begin now.

What we are looking for are more accurate price signals from processors. These would allow farmers to make better decisions about the type of milk they produce.

“That will only be possible if we have a combination of greater transparency and a pricing system that links payments to milk constituents and the end product”, Irvine concluded.