Dairy farmers have targeted a Meadow Foods processing plant in protest over low milk prices.
About 60 farmers used tractors to blockade a plant in Chester on Tuesday night (17 November).
Lobby group Farmers for Action (FFA) organised the peaceful protest, but it was not supported by the NFU.
Dairy farmers who took part in the protest said they were angry with Meadow Foods because they believed the company pays farmers 19p/litre for their milk – well below the cost of production of about 31-32p/litre.
Dairy farmers who were present at the protest took to social media to lambast Meadow Foods after three lorries with Polish number plates were spotted driving in to the site.
But Farmers Weekly understands the lorries were being used to transport skimmed milk – made from British milk, which had been processed at the factory – to the Continent.
“FFA get no satisfaction from what it had to do last night but dialogue was tried right up to the last minute and failed to deliver anything”
David Handley, Farmers For Action
Speaking after the protest, FFA chairman David Handley said: “Every man and his dog is calling for unity, I would suggest unity starts at home.
“FFA get no satisfaction from what it had to do last night but dialogue was tried right up to the last minute and failed to deliver anything.”
In a statement, the FFA claimed that the NFU had decided not to take part in the protest because Meadow Foods had told them that if they raised their milk price some producers in Cumbria would lose their milk contract.
But a spokesman for Meadow Foods said the FFA’s claims were “untrue” and “irresponsible”.
“We cannot put the milk price up – if we could, we would,” said the spokesman. “We are paying the price that we are realising from the market.”
The FFA accused Meadow Foods of “bullying tactics” and questioned why the NFU had not supported direct action on this occasion.
“We are paying the price that we are realising from the market”
The lobby group said the NFU had chosen not to support direct action against a processor who “blames everyone else as a reason for not increasing their milk price and who threatens to take away farmer contracts”.
But NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison hit back at the claims in a statement released to members.
He said: “We continue to support peaceful, targeted protests with clear objectives. Back in the summer we did support such protests at certain retailers where there was clearly more that could be done to support farmers.
“It’s a shame that the FFA have chosen to criticise the NFU when they are all too aware of the work we have done, sometimes alongside them, to better the situation for UK dairy farmers”
Rob Harrison, NFU
“Tonight’s protest is different. We are not aware of any clear target or objective and for that reason we haven’t been able to support or promote it.
“It’s a shame that the FFA have chosen to criticise the NFU when they are all too aware of the work we have done, sometimes alongside them, to better the situation for UK dairy farmers.
“We’re in constant communication with major milk buyers and retailers and other end users to push the case for backing British dairy right now, tomorrow and in the future.”
Meadow Foods is the UK’s largest independently owned dairy group and leading supplier of milk-based dairy ingredients to the food industry.
The business handles more than 560m litres of milk each year direct from more than 600 farmer suppliers from the North West, the Midlands, the North and west Wales.