Farmers For Action (FFA) and NFU Scotland (NFUS) have put their policy differences to one side to share the platform at a dairy crisis meeting in Ayrshire.
Only a month ago the two organisations were not even on speaking terms. But FFA chairman David Handley said he was now prepared to travel anywhere and talk to anyone in order to find solutions to the dairy crisis.
Mr Handley also held out an olive branch to the NFU south of the border. “If the NFU in England and Wales choose to think they can find solutions on their own, that’s fine by me. But if they want to talk and sit down at a table I’ll be there tomorrow,” he told the meeting.
“At the moment people are just making sure they still have a milk contract. In another month or two that might be different, it just depends where the milk price goes”
Only about 60 farmers turned out for the meeting, which was held in one of Scotland’s traditional dairying heartlands. And in a show of hands the majority indicated they would not take part in any direct action organised by FFA.
Mr Handley said he was resigned to their decision, but added FFA would not be backing down and would continue to take direct action in other areas of the country.
Two protest events have already been scheduled for this week in the South West and Midlands.
Gary Mitchell, NFU Scotland’s former milk committee chairman, appealed to the audience to focus instead on dairy promotion in the domestic market. But he hinted that the mood of Scottish milk producers might change if the milk price remained low for a long time.
“At the moment people are just making sure they still have a milk contract. In another month or two that might be different, it just depends where the milk price goes. After all, it’s just in the past two months that the downturn has really hit bank accounts.”
“Every dairy farmer in Scotland should be prepared to go out and fight for their livelihood. They’re being driven out of business and off their land. I’ll do anything that’s legal in order to make a point.”
However, one 18-year-old farmer whose family invested in a new dairy business and milk parlour just a few months ago said he would have no hesitation in joining FFA.
“Something has to be done,” he said. “I’d be prepared to stop lorries and if they’re going to take milk in from Europe or other countries, I’d be prepared to stop it at the boat and either direct it back into the ocean or burn the lorries, that’s how adamant I am about stopping it.”
Another farmer at the meeting said: “Every dairy farmer in Scotland should be prepared to go out and fight for their livelihood. They’re being driven out of business and off their land. I’ll do anything that’s legal in order to make a point.”
Mr Handley said he had been in a series of meetings in the past week with “powerful people” who were looking at the feasibility of building a new milk drying plant in Scotland.
“We’ve only got one of these plants in the UK which is getting older and more tired, and it’s in the wrong location,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it for four years, but after the meetings I’ve had in the past week we’re getting a lot closer. Within the next 12 months there could be possibility of something big happening.”
However, Gary Mitchell, who has been involved in the Scottish government’s dairy growth board, was sceptical.
“I’ve been working with Richard Lochhead and it hasn’t been discussed in those channels, so I’m as intrigued as you are,” he said. “I have reservations, but I’m going to listen.”