Dairy farmers in the North East swapped their milk parlours for the pavements to rally public support for local producers.
The decision to take to the streets of Middlesbrough and Sheffield comes after months of savage farmgate price cuts in the milk price, which have already forced more than 60 dairy farmers in the region to sell their cows and close their parlours.
Nationally, the impact of the cuts – which in some instances amount to more than 30% – has seen the number of dairy farmers fall below 10,000 for the first time.
NFU regional dairy board chairman David Shaw said he was “bemused” by the prices being paid at the moment, especially as milk is a “fantastic, fresh, nutritious product”.
He added: “Milk and the wealth of dairy ingredients we enjoy every day really are a national speciality.
“The quality of our milk and diversity of wonderful regional products made from it should be celebrated and cherished.
“Our message to consumers is simple – every pint is precious. The public needs dairy farmers to keep the daily supply of milk and delicious dairy ingredients coming and British dairy farmers need the public to make sure the products they buy are made with British milk.”
The farmers’ rally, which began in Middlesbrough on Wednesday (18 February), will continue for a second day in Fargate, Sheffield today (Thursday 19 February), where they aim to meet as many shoppers as possible.
Joining them will be the NFU’s model cow Annabelle, who loves to be milked, and samples of wonderful local yoghurt and cheese produced by Longley Farm, Shepherds Purse and Wensleydale Creamery.
At the Sheffield event, local dairy Our Cow Molly will be providing a taste of its #superfreshmilk and ice cream.
Mr Shaw said: “We will have plenty of samples for people to try and hope that by reminding them how good our local produce is, they’ll remember to back British farming next time they go shopping.
“In particular we are asking people to look out for cheese, yoghurts, butter and other dairy products made using British milk, as we know many of the products currently on sale use imported milk.”
To help shoppers, the NFU has produced an easy reference guide to labelling. This shows what people should be looking for and highlights common pitfalls.
“We know from our regular survey of public opinion that people want to see more British products on the shelves. This guide is designed to help them get to grips with dairy labelling, which can be confusing,” added Mr Shaw.
“We believe retailers can do more to support the British dairy sector by increasing their sourcing of British milk for their own-label products and make the provenance of British dairy products clearer, ideally by using the Red Tractor logo.”