More than 300 Cumbrian dairy farmers turned out to hear First Milk boss Kate Allum and farm minister Jim Paice at a meeting in Penrith on Tuesday (21 August).

And while the minister received a lukewarm response to his calls for dairy farmers to cut their costs of production, the outlook from First Milk chief executive Ms Allum was positive and upbeat.

She explained First Milk’s new solids-based milk contract now being offered exclusively to Cumbrian dairy farmers supplying milk to its dairy at Aspatria in west Cumbria.

The new contract will pay producers on the weight of butterfat and protein in the milk supplied, rather than through the industry-standard pence per litre.

Although Mr Paice continued to deliver his message about producers cutting costs of production to help improve their margins – which led to the minister being strongly criticised by one angry west Cumbrian milk producer – he acknowledged there was reason for dairy farmers to be optimistic about the future.

“With global demand for Western food soaring, the British dairy industry has huge potential to prosper, and First Milk is grabbing the opportunities with both hands,” said Mr Paice.

“They’re showing how an added-value, export-led business strategy, focussing on investment and innovation, can drive significant returns for farmers and the wider economy.”

Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart chaired the conference at Dolphenby Farm, Edenhall, Penrith.

“Today’s conference was all about the minister hearing direct from Cumbria’s dairy farmers, and discussing the ways in which they can be given the tools to negotiate the prices they deserve,” said Mr Stewart.

“This summer’s dramatic price cuts were unexpected and inappropriate; we need mechanisms in place to ensure this does not happen again.”

Mr Stewart called for a dairy manifesto that recognised and shaped the ways in which our dairy farmers could thrive and prosper in a market that fluctuates dramatically.

“This means making use of new export and joint-venture opportunities such as those that First Milk are pioneering with Emirates Airlines and with Fonterra in New Zealand to produce whey protein products and working on co-operative and partnership models where dairy farmers can collaborate on negotiating the best possible deals.

“I am enormously encouraged by the minister’s comments and input and will work closely with Cumbria’s dairy farmers and with DEFRA to keep the momentum going and ensure that we really do make practical changes that will make a difference.”

Cumbria dairy farmer Robert Craig, who hosted the event, was optimistic about the future for UK dairy farmers despite the current contentious issues.

“There is a very good future for us out there- there is no doubt about that. But we have got to start working together and to get behind the co-ops or establish some other mechanism to establish a better price. We cannot let this opportunity disappear,” said Mr Craig.

For more on this topic

Paice announces £3.5m Cumbria jobs boost

See our milk price cuts crisis page