A NEWLY-LAUNCHED dairy industry body has been hailed by its backers as an opportunity to establish a firm foundation for a better future for milk producers.

But its detractors say it is lacking in influence with the retailers and its regional representation is poor so it is unlikely to improve milk prices and the plight of the dairy farmer.

Called Dairy UK, the body was unveiled at the Dairy Event 2004 on Thursday Sept 23. It will begin operations on Friday (Oct 1) and hold its first meeting soon after.

Dairy UK will replace the existing Federation of Milk Co-ops and the Dairy Industry Association Limited and will be funded by levies imposed at co-op level on raw milk (0.001ppl) and on processors at 0.0085ppl. The total pot should reach £1.8m a year.

Jim Begg, former chief executive of DIAL and Dairy UK‘s new director general, was bullish about the new body‘s prospects.

“Dairy UK will provide a strong and unified voice for the industry both inside the UK and beyond.

“Its voice will leave the industry much better placed to deal with the government and legislators and to influence the way CAP reform is managed,” said Mr Begg.

“The structure of the 12-strong board of directors is groundbreaking in that it will include
two farmer representatives who will sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the chief executives of the four main UK co-ops and the four main processors,” Mr Begg said.

“Having farmers involved at this high a level is a first,” said Mr Begg.

The two farmer board members will hold office for two-years after being elected by the Dairy Farmers‘ Forum – a new group of farming industry representatives that includes all of the main UK unions, the major co-ops and the Royal Association Of British Dairy Farmers.

The forum will be co-ordinated by the NFU and has already met to elect the first farmer board members.

These will be NFU milk board chairman Gwyn Jones and Wesley Abbey vice chairman of Arla Milk Partnership.

“The industry has to rationalise. We have to move away from politicking and navel-gazing. I genuinely believe Dairy UK is a step forward and a step up for farmers,” said Mr Jones.

But others, particularly those outside England were more cautious.

Although welcoming the creation of Dairy UK, both NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union have insisted that the plans for regional committees do not far enough.

The Scottish and Northern Ireland industries must be represented on the main board, the unions insisted.

Farmers For Action‘s chairman David Handley went further saying he doubted that farmers would benefit at all.

“I have read the prospectus for Dairy UK seven times, and my conclusion is that it‘s not going to give us anything we haven‘t already got,” said Mr Handley.

He claimed that a national milk agency had more potential for farmers.

“The Milk Development Council has done a lot of work about this and found that a national milk agency will return more money to the farmer.

“They‘ve even said it‘s the only option likely to do so,” Mr Handley said.