28 March 2000
Farmers split over supermarket talks

By Donald MacPhail

CRISIS talks between supermarkets and the National Farmers Union rather than grassroots farmers are threatening to drive a wedge between milk producers.

NFU regional representatives are discussing the continuing slump in milk prices at a meeting with representatives of Sainsburys on Tuesday (28 March).

But producers picketing milk depots under the banner of Farmers for Action have reacted with anger to the news that they have been excluded from the talks.

Farmers For Action, which claims to have 10,000 supporters, was set up earlier this month by producers who felt under-represented by the NFU.

Richard Haddock, a member of Farmers For Action and former NFU county chairman, said: “This is an attempt by the supermarkets to divide dairy farmers.”

Sainsburys seems to be following the lead of Tesco, which last week broke off talks with the FFA saying future negotiations would be with NFU representatives.

But Mr Haddock said the recent spate of direct action across the country was “building up a head of steam” which must be maintained.

The Sainsburys meeting between the supermarket and milk producers was organised by Peter Gantlett, chairman of Wiltshire NFU.

He will be joined by Bob Hilborn, Sainsburys head of primary agriculture and Robin Tapper, commercial manager for dairy buying.

Dairy farmers have seen farmgate prices fall to as little as 15ppl – a 30-year low in real terms – while supermarket milk prices remain steady.

The crisis has already prompted the launch of a new group, calling itself the Federation of Milk Producers, in a bid to unite producers and halt the slump.

Almost 1000 farmers have attended closed-door meeting of the group, claimed its steering group chairman John Loftus.

The group believes farmers should strengthen their bargaining power, boost promotion, and develop export markets for pedigree and commercial cattle.

Meanwhile, Scottish NFU leaders will meet representatives of major dairy companies in Paisley for talks about the crisis on Wednesday (29 March)