Huw Irranca-DaviesHuw Irranca-Davies ©David Hartley/Rex

Labour has called on the government to “name and shame” milk buyers and retailers paying dairy farmers less than the average cost of production.

Shadow farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies called on his counterpart George Eustice to publish the details on Defra’s website, alongside those processors not signed up to the voluntary code.

Speaking in a Westminster debate on the dairy crisis, Mr Irranca-Davies also asked the minister whether David Cameron’s promise to extend the supermarket watchdog’s powers was just a pre-election soundbite.

“Unfortunately in price wars there is only one casualty – the dairy farmer.”
Huw Irranca-Davies, shadow farm minister

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“Let’s have some straight answers, because our dairy farmers need it and they deserve,” he said.

“Unfortunately in price wars there is only one casualty – the dairy farmer.”

Nigel Evans’s 12-point dairy charter

  1. The groceries code adjudicator to be given more powers to protect farmers
  2. The groceries code to be strengthened and its remit widened
  3. Supermarkets that sell dairy products as a loss leader should be named and shamed
  4. Farmers should be given more assistance and support from government
  5. Banks should do more to support farmers
  6. HMRC should allow farmers’ profits to be averaged over five years
  7. The EU crisis intervention price should be reviewed
  8. The government should push for more clarity on country-of-origin labeling
  9. Investment allowances for farmers should be more stable
  10. Producer organisations should be encouraged
  11. Farmers should be cushioned from volatility
  12. More work is needed to boost public procurement of British dairy products

Mr Eustice did not respond directly to the demands, but said there was a big spread in farmers’ production costs and the prices paid for milk.

He set out what the government was doing to help crisis-hit dairy farmers, such as urging banks and HMRC to be understanding and helping to develop a futures market.

And he said groceries code adjudicator Christine Tacon was meeting milk processors to explain how the guidelines covered their dealings with supermarkets.

“The long-term prospects for this industry are good,” Mr Eustice said.

The parliamentary debate was secured by Nigel Evans, MP for the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, who listed a 12-point charter of action areas that needed addressing.

The list included allowing farm profits to be averaged over five years for tax purposes, reviewing the EU intervention price, promotion of producer organisations and securing more consistent tax relief for investment.

Anne McIntosh, chair of the committee that last month published a dairy crisis report, said she hoped the farm minister would “leap into action”, following the review’s conclusions.

“We have to look at that difference between the small individual farmer and the might and weight and strength of processors as well as the might of supermarkets,” she said.

“Until that chain and that relationship is addressed, I do not see any change to the dairy industry or the price going forward.”

The industry does not have an updated average cost of production, as different farm systems and performance see figures range from 20-40p/litre.

But consultants, accounts and farm leaders continue to quote 28-30p/litre as a rough average cost.

Farmgate milk prices on contracts now stretch from more than 30p/litre for supermarket cost-covering deals to close to 20p/litre for some processors.