Farmers For Action has pulled out from the SOS Dairy coalition, saying a more hardline approach is needed in the fight for fairer milk prices.

Farmers For Action chairman David Handley announced the decision to coalition members during a meeting at Stoneleigh on Tuesday (23 April).

Formed last year, the coalition brought together Farmers For Action, the NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and the Tenant Farmers’ Association.

It successfully reversed cuts in the farmgate milk price cuts and campaigned for a voluntary code of practice aimed at ensuring a fair relationship between farmers and milk buyers.

But recent talk of further milk price cuts has seen members of Farmers For Action return to protests outside supermarket depots during the past fortnight.

The latest protests have not been supported by the NFU.

Mr Handley said he was also uneasy over the coalition’s “lenient” approach towards the dairy code of conduct, accusing milk buyers of cherry-picking which parts of the code they implement.

“We feel we have run our course within the coalition,” Mr Handley told Farmers Weekly.

Farmers For Action would continue to work with other coalition members, but felt it was better to do so outside the coalition, rather than as a member itself, he said.

“We feel the coalition is inhibiting Farmers For Action – if we are not going to get any help from the NFU, then we might as well go back to the way we were before,” said Mr Handley.

“We certainly feel at the moment that this industry is not being pushed hard enough.”

Over the past two weeks, dairy farmers under the Farmers For Action banner have targeted supermarket depots in Cheshire, Derbyshire and West Yorkshire.

The protests were sparked after dairy cooperative First Milk suggested it would have to reduce farmgate milk prices unless retailers paid more for cheese.

This week, processors Dairy Crest and Arla Milk Link announced milk price increases for their farmer suppliers. But First Milk has yet to follow suit.

A First Milk spokesman said the company had held “positive discussions” with Asda, Morrisons and the Co-operative about returns from cheese.

“We have follow-up meetings planned later this week with all our major customers,” he said.

NFU president Peter Kendall said he was disappointed by the Farmers For Action decision to withdraw from the coalition.

“We regret that they have decided to go their separate way,” Mr Kendall said.

“The industry demonstrated last summer and autumn just how effective it could be when it does speak with one voice,” he added.

The coalition was determined to continue pursuing the voluntary code. Uptake of the code had so far been reasonable and the coalition wanted to ensure it was fully adopted, said Mr Kendall.

“We think this is a starting point to having a clearer and more transparent marketplace that works and delivers for farmers. We are not in any way backing away from the voluntary code.”

On protests, Mr Kendall said the NFU had been first to get farmers and their families outside supermarkets last year with leaflets showing which retailers were doing a good and bad job.

“It had remarkably speedy consequences – it broke the dam last summer because we shamed those supermarkets that weren’t looking after their dairy farmers properly.”

The NFU had also organised last year’s SOS Dairy summit that brought more than 2,500 farmers to central London at the height of the campaign, said Mr Kendall.

“I understand that people don’t always see the work that the NFU does, but I think on this issue we’ve been right up there and we remain determined to keep working with the coalition to ensure that the dairy market works effectively.”

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