21 April 2000

Farmers action group hardens its resolve

FAILURE to get constructive talks with dairies and supermarkets this week has raised the stakes and hardened attitudes among Farmers For Action members.

Despite one supermarkets public assurances that it would hold the price paid to dairies supplying its milk, one of those suppliers was this week still giving "retail pressure" as the top reason for reducing the price it paid to its direct suppliers.

Kelvin Linsley, an FFA spokesman said "I think were getting the run around. But as more people start to see what is really going on we are getting more people wanting to take serious action. Our message to the dairies and supermarkets is theres no question of us backing down. Whatever action is necessary will be taken."

News that the meeting of south west milk producers, dairies and supermarkets negotiated two weeks ago as the reward for ending a blockade of Unigates Totnes plant in Devon, will not take place after all has added fuel to the fire. Robert Deane, policy adviser for NFU south west, tried to arrange the meeting but the dairies said the agenda items were national issues and could be dealt with only by the Dairy Industry Federation and NFU HQ.

On learning the news Mr Linsley said "We (the FFA) are continually being undermined by the NFU. Their meetings achieve nothing.

"I can promise the NFU that if it steps in our way this time its in for the chop. We have already got more than the 500 signatures needed to call an extraordinary meeting to start changing the constitution so that we can directly elect different leaders."

But NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said the NFU was not colluding with DIF or supermarkets, but it could not negotiate prices because it had no milk to sell. The meeting would not be able to negotiate higher prices, though it might discuss pricing mechanisms related to production costs. The cost-plus system would need to be thoroughly discussed by the membership as in some forms it could disadvantage producers when markets improved, he warned. "Our role is making sure government, processors and retailers understand the gravity of the situation and that current low prices will put future milk supplies in jeopardy." Regarding the 500 signatures, Mr Bennett said only Council could change the constitution and he would stand by the NFUs democratic process. &#42