Defra minister George Eustice has been accused of snubbing dairy and sheep producers after failing to visit this year’s Livestock Event.
Mr Eustice was initially due to visit the two-day event at the Birmingham NEC on Wednesday (8 July). But his visit was postponed until the following day – and then cancelled altogether.
During the visit, Mr Eustice was due to make a ministerial speech – as well as meeting livestock leaders, farmers, exhibitors and other showgoers.
Billed as the leading business-to-business event for the UK livestock industry, this year’s show was held as farmers battle major slumps in milk and lamb prices.
Farmgate milk prices have slumped by one-third since peaking at about 31p per litre last year, with many dairy producers now losing money.
Meanwhile, sheep producers have seen their share of the retail lamb price drop from 60% to 50% over the past year – with the NFU warning that values are at “critically low levels”.
Farmers said Mr Eustice should have been among the estimated 17,000 visitors to the Livestock Event to hear first hand the problems facing the sector.
Milk producer and AHDB dairy ambassador Paul Tompkins said: “We’re still waiting for a reason why our farming minister did not show up.”
Similar disappointment was voiced by a panel of speakers during a Livestock Farming Forum debate on the second day of the show.
Farmers For Action chairman David Handley said Mr Eustice had been due to discuss the situation during a 20-minute meeting with industry representatives at the event.
The minister should have attended the show and explained how the government was going to help producers ride out the crisis and tackle issues such as bovine TB, said Mr Handley.
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, which organises the Livestock Event, said UK milk producers were facing a major market crisis.
RABDF chairman Ian Macalpine said the milk market had been stressed by oversupply as well as the impact of political decisions surrounding the Russian ban on dairy imports.
Reasons for the downturn in the dairy sector included oversupply, reduced demand and political interference – all of which needed to be addressed.
Mr Macalpine said: “We can now see what impact the political decisions made by our government and Europe are making on our industry.”
Asked by Farmers Weekly why Mr Eustice did not attend the Livestock Event, a Defra spokeperson said: “I can confirm the minister was unable to attend because of diary commitments.”