Dairy farmers in Devon and Cornwall have called a crisis meeting as their margins continue to be pressured by soaring costs and stagnant farmgate prices.

After last year’s difficult summer and winter, and this year’s late spring, dairy farmers were struggling with expensive feed and lack of forage, said James Cann, who milks 170 cows at Stroxworthy Farm, Bideford, Devon. “Many farmers are running out of forage and are struggling to pay their bills, and it’s having a knock-on effect to ancillary industries such as feed merchants,” he said.

Although dairy commodity prices had improved sharply, large retailers continued to take enormous margins, particularly on cheese, and farmgate prices had remained flat since November. “Having spoken to cheese processors it appears the problem is the price they have to sell to supermarkets at,” said Mr Cann.

“The supermarkets are very nearly doubling the price of cheese by the time it’s put on the shelf. Consumers want to support British farmers, and we’re very grateful for that, but the supermarkets appear to be deceiving them.”

Mr Cann was calling for greater transparency in retailers’ margins, as current estimates on cheese ranged from 2-80%. “We just want some straight answers – they know all our costs to the last penny. It shouldn’t be difficult to work out.”

He hoped 400 dairy farmers would attend the meeting in Holsworthy memorial hall at 7.30pm on 24 April. Farmers For Action chairman David Handley would be speaking at the meeting and attendees would then decide on the next course of action.

“Farmers are struggling – we shouldn’t just lie down and accept any price the retailers set,” said Mr Cann. “Many are in a worse situation than they were last summer; if the coalition isn’t going to work we need to be more proactive.”