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European Farmers expanding output

Living in a rural area you tend to get a lot of free newspapers with a agricultural bent. Skimming the pages of NZ Farmer (March 28 2016) I came across a very informative article by Keith Woodford about European farmers expanding their value-add dairy production and its impact on New Zealand.

Up toCAP Int Price April 2015 European farmers were protected by production quotas and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which provided large production subsidies which led to over-production. At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector.

An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated opposite. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:

1. It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.

2. At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.

3. In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.

4. There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1

Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.

Production quotas in Europe were eliminated in April 2015 and from April to November European milk production increased by 4% with a 6% increase in December from the previous year. However, as with the reduction in subsidies in New Zealand in 1984, they will be a lot of pain for European farmers as their ‘safety net’ has now been taken away.

The Europeans are producing as much cheese, butter, infant formula and cream as they can, with cheese being more important than liquid milk.  The Europeans are also selling increasing quantities of UHT and infant formula to China.  With both products, they are out-marketing New Zealand.

Chinese infant formula statistics for 2015 show European countries with 78 per cent market share of imported product, compared to New Zealand at 8 per cent.

#1 – Holland – 34%

#2 – Ireland – 15%

The Europeans would like to decrease their production skim milk powder (SMP), but with butter and cream being profitable, they keep producing the SMP as a by-product.   However, the European production of whole milk powder (WMP) has been drifting down in response to low prices.

The European producers have protection from some of the Global Dairy Auction process through their reliance on value-add products.  Also, apart from Ireland, all European dairy systems are 12-month-a-year production systems.  These 12 month production systems can lead to higher production costs, but they also lead to lower processing costs through better utilisation of processing infrastructure. This then feeds back into higher farm-gate prices.

Buffer Stocks

The Europeans have been putting limited quantities of skim milk powder (SMP) into what are called intervention stocks. At the end of January 2016, there were about 50,000 tonnes of SMP in a public intervention store. The intervention quantities could reach a new limit of 218,000 tonnes over coming months. The main benefit of the SMP intervention is a smoothing of commodity prices. So if the price is too high stocks are released into the market and when they are too low authorities buy stock in order to reduce supply and therefore increase the price to a specific level.

European Farmers and the future

There is a good chance that in the longer term European milk production will further increase, as some farms become bigger and fewer in number.  Poland has become one of the largest milk producers in the EU become a major milk producer with its flat terrain, very fertile soil, low feed and labour costs. Furthermore compared to other EU members it doesn’t have the pressure on land for residential use. Since joining the EU in 2004, the informal dairy sector is also still considerable in Poland, but the 2015 quota lift has seen these farms absorbed into the formal sector which in turn are expected to expand quickly without quota impediments.

Conclusion

For this longer term, the Europeans are not going to try and compete with New Zealand with WMP.  Europeans regard WMP as an outlet for product with no other immediate use. And they know that, in low-priced volatile commodity markets for long-life products, they lack competitive advantage relative to New Zealand. 

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