I used to be one of you. I grew up with cows, milking them, looking after them, living with them. Like many dairy farmers, in the late 90s the sums didn’t add up. My family got out of dairying and I had to work outside of the industry in which I’d got my degree and where all of my specialist knowledge lay.
Back then the dairy companies reduced prices for many reasons – we were over quota, we didn’t meet all of their farm-assurance tick-boxes, our milk didn’t have the right constituent parts. One, ten or one hundred engineered reasons not to pay proper money for a UK manufactured raw product.
I see now the reason for chopping off UK dairying income this week is that the price of cream has collapsed. I suspect it’s the dairy farmers fault, for producing too much cream. It’s just another engineered problem to use as an excuse to cut the profits (or increase the losses) of their suppliers.
Since the late 90s something has changed though. I know it’s changed, because I’ve spent the last decade working for IT companies who’ve been part of that change. Media has become social media.
Public relations and marketing aren’t an announcement any more, they’re a discussion. What the public sees has been changed. We all now have the freedom to publicise whatever we want in our own personal space and beyond. Easily, effectively and for everyone to read and digest.
A day out in London, protesting is a traditional gesture, but one that isn’t very valuable these days. It is also a point publicity incident. It’s over in the media in a moment.
You all now have access to something that is far more valuable – Facebook and Twitter. They’re free, they’re very public and you can access them anywhere you have mobile phone network access. They’re also your biggest weapons with which to respond to the dairy companies and draw attention to your plight. You can even use them while you’re demonstrating in London.
Get a Twitter account. Get a Facebook account. Find the accounts of the dairy companies and start explaining, publicly why you are upset with them. Twitter gives you 140 characters – include, for example @UKTesco or @ArlaDanmark in your post and you’ll pop up in their feed. I suspect even your MP has a Twitter account.
If you keep talking about them, pretty soon not only people will start to notice, but search engines will notice this too and start to promote you in association with your subject matter. In relatively short shrift you’ve just built yourself your own personal global publicity platform all about the subject of your choice. Maybe that’s the buyer of your milk. Keep on-topic and you can now start to announce to your audience who are interested in the dairy company the things they need to hear about the people who are slashing at your income to support their corporate profits.
Add together only the base accounts for Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco and you have over 100,000 people following those accounts. You will have an audience with a significant percentage if at any point one of those accounts responds to you. As soon as they engage with you, you have a large audience – use it and get talking and keep talking.
You can even latch on to completely unrelated events – if enough of you post including the terms Olympics, ukdairying and ripoff<insert dairy company here> you’ll be the thing that’s noticed each day by the press and remembered about the Olympics. You can take control of the publicity of an event if there are only a few hundred of you, but you post with one voice.
Facebook is quite different – you’re not limited to 140 characters, but you are at liberty to post on your buyer’s pages, with the stories that might make them uncomfortable. You can also use it to coordinate actions as a group.
Take https://www.facebook.com/mullerdairyuk as an example. They want to talk to their 87,000 followers about their favourite flavour yoghurts. They might be less keen to talk about their low farmgate prices, but if many farmers keep bringing it up they’re going to look very publicly abusive of their suppliers if they just keep deleting all of your posts and comments. Explain the commercial pain you’re going through and also the hard work that goes into the milk which forms the base for their products. Be nice, be polite, be clear, but keep posting. If they ban you, move on to another dairy company account. Remember most of these accounts are only manned 9-5:30, too. Make sure you tell your neighbour to post, too – you have the power to tell your story on these businesses pages – you’re part of it.
If you want to group together and make your own pages to explain your problems or work together – do it. Create your personal accounts and then go here:
and create a page to help tell your story, as a group, or as a business. Random members of the public may join in and ask you difficult questions – answer them honestly and clearly. The more that the ninety-something percent of the UK’s population who aren’t involved in agriculture engage with you, the better they’ll understand what a great job you do. The mantra in social media is clear ‘engage or die’. For dairy farmers it is imperative – engage, or your industry will die.
Do remember that everything you post is there for good: forever. Unless you specify not then things are public as soon as you post them.
Do remain polite but firm and do not lie! Do check the contract with your supplier for anything that gags you in social media platforms too!
If you get out there and broadcast, from the pit in the parlour, from the tractor cab, from the field, from the scraper tractor and keep talking and posting pictures people will understand the life you live. If people understand how much of you, you invest in delivering them their food, they will listen and they will start asking questions. The dairy companies will get a lot of exposure of what they are doing to the people who are the guardians of our countryside.
Your story needs to be heard. You must tell it publicly. Do this and you can start to control public opinion and that is where you start to ensure you are paid a fair price for the high quality product you work so hard to produce.
You must engage, immediately, all of you, or what’s left of the dairy industry is going to die out and that’s not an acceptable outcome for Great Britain, or even the dairy companies.
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