© Michael Scott Caters

Pressure group Farmers For Action has said it may rethink its campaign of action against Muller after demonstrations at three Muller factories drew fewer protesters than hoped for.

FFA organised demonstrations at three Muller factories on Thursday night (11 August) in protest over a freeze on the standard milk price for non-aligned producers.

In total, up to 150 farmers took part in the action which saw blockades at the company’s Bridgwater, Foston and Market Drayton plants.

See also: Muller freezes milk prices for September

The biggest turnout was at Bridgwater in Somerset where 50-60 farmers were in attendance with a range of farm equipment.

FFA chairman David Hadley said protesters had shut down the plants until midnight, as planned, so in that sense the group had achieved what it had set out to do.

However, he admitted that he was disappointed with turnout and as a result the group would sit down next week to decide whether to keep protesting or to go down another route.

“I’m not giving up the fight and I still believe we have a mandate because we have members that are Muller producers telling us that they want our help,” he said.

‘However, we’ve got to make a decision based on the numbers going out. So we’ll sit down to decide whether to continue with what we are doing, go down another route or leave it.”

Change of heart

Mr Handley said he was convinced that if enough farmers turned out then it would result in a change of heart from Muller, which has argued that it cannot lift its standard price in September despite more positive signals in the commodity market.

“If farmers turned out in force and said we welcome you and we want you as a business, but you have a corporate responsibility to your suppliers, I think it would work.”

Ahead of the protests, Muller chief executive Ronald Kers published an open letter to farmers in which he defended the company’s position, arguing that the price paid to farmers over the past 12 months had been higher than many of its competitors.

Mr Kers pointed to the fact that over the past 12 months its average non-aligned price had been 20.8p/litre, rising to 22.9p/litre with the retailer supplements added on.

But Mr Handley claimed that Muller had “nothing to crow about” when it came to price and it “sickened” him that the retailer supplement was being used as part of its defence.

The retailer supplement had been negotiated by farm leaders, not the processers, said Mr Handley.

Higher prices

In posters displayed outside the Market Drayton plant on Thursday night, Muller said its standard litre price was one of the higher non-aligned prices paid in the UK and it was determined to maintain a leading milk price.

“We are again being targeted by militants, many of whom have no connection whatsoever to Muller or our farmer boards.

“They wrongly believe that carrying out illegal blockading of dairy premises is a means to achieve progress, whereas it achieves the opposite – delays, extra costs and disruption for ourselves, our employees and suppliers, including other farmers.”

The blockades were illegal and caused serious damage to its business, therefore it would consider taking legal action against anyone who took part, it added.