Farmers carrying placards in milk protestDairy farmers protested outside Arla's Ashby de la Zouch milk plant in Leicestershire in 2012. © Tim Scrivener

A union of farming organisations has told farmers to stand together and be ready to act as the dairy crisis deepens.

The call, which was the strongest call to arms yet, was made at a meeting of more than 400 farmers in Somerset on Wednesday evening (22 July).

See also: Photos: French farmers show price fury with roadblocks and manure

The NFU, Farmers For Action, Tenant Farmers Association and Farm Community Network presented a united front at the meeting.

“We must change the way we sell our milk – if we don’t we will be back here in two years’ time.”
Rob Harrison, NFU dairy board

In an uncompromising speech, FFA chairman David Handley said: “If peaceful protest is necessary it will happen in the next few weeks, and when that call comes, I want everyone to be there.

“If you go away from here and do nothing then you deserve what you get.”

Although Mr Handley admitted that the NFU and FFA hadn’t always seen eye to eye, they were united and working hard for the industry now.

“There is a massive amount of work going on in the background and we need your backing. We are going to exhaust negotiations first this time, but the message is going out loud and clear: This group is not for moving.”

Rob Harrison, chairman of the NFU dairy board, set out a list of changes he wanted to see in the industry, including more producer organisations, more processing capacity and innovative brands, and fairer contracts for farmers.

“We must change the way we sell our milk – if we don’t we will be back here in two years’ time.

“We have had enough of milk being sold as a loss leader,” he added.

“The government needs to get involved to make sure farmers are treated fairly – all the hard work of the past couple of years has gone out of the window. But when things get better, make sure you remember who treated us badly.”

George Dunn, chief executive of the TFA, called for the groceries code adjudicator to have real teeth and the ability to report on price transparency throughout the supply chain. “Enough is enough. We need to remain united – the last thing we need is to be divided in front of the retailers and processors that are ruining our businesses.”

Peter Clarke, FCN co-ordinator for Cornwall, warned that farmers still had an inbuilt fear of repercussions from speaking out, but called on the industry to remain strong. “This is not just about dairy – I have never known the whole industry to be down like this,” he said. “You are all in it together and the future is in your hands: Get up and make your voices heard.”