The National Federation of Women’s Institutes has launched its Great Milk Debate initiative to raise the awareness of the issues facing dairy farmers.

Thousands of people are expected to attend almost 100 milk debates taking place across the country in the next two weeks.

The debates – jointly organised by the NFWI and NFU – are aimed at bringing dairy farmers, consumers, milk processors and retailers together to discuss the crisis facing the British dairy industry and to find solutions.

The first debate was launched in London on 24 April at Local Government House in Westminster.

The debating panel included: Fay Mansell, NFWI chairwoman; Peter Kendall, NFU president; Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury’s; Rt. Hon David Curry, chairman of Dairy UK; Sir Don Curry (Chair of the Sustainable Farming & Food Delivery Group); Daniel Kawczynski, MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dairy Farmers; and Deb Warren, dairy farmer and WI member.

Fay Mansell, NFWI chair said: “British dairy farmers are struggling to survive. Many WI members are farmers themselves or have seen the impact that dairy farmers leaving the business has on their communities.

“We must take urgent action to halt the decline of dairy farming in this country and stop our communities and the countryside suffering as a result.

The Great Milk Debate will give everyone from the farmer in rural Devon to the London consumer who buys milk in a supermarket the opportunity to suggest how farmers, processors, retailers and consumers can all receive a fair deal,” she said.

Peter Kendall, NFU president added: “Dairy farming is hugely important to Britain. Milk is a vital food staple but more than that dairy farming helps shape our countryside and underpins thousands of jobs.

“However on average three dairy farmers leave the industry every day as they lose the battle to make a profit from producing milk in the face of low milk prices, rising energy costs and an unbalanced supply chain,” said Mr Kendall.

The debate highlighted that farmers are paid an average of 18 pence per litre (ppl) today, compared with 24.5ppl 10 years ago.

The cost of production has risen in those 10 years, so that the average dairy farmer is now making a loss of more than 3p on every litre of milk that leaves the farm. During the same period, retail margins have risen from 3ppl to around 16ppl.