24 March 2000

New federation aiming to unite milk producers

By Jeremy Hunt

THE Federation of Milk Prod-ucers, a new national organisation with a remit to unite UK dairy farmers and halt the fall in milk prices, was launched this week.

The FMPs primary aim is to bring together the UKs 20,000 individual milk production businesses "in urgent action to halt the slide in milk prices" and to concentrate milk selling into fewer, larger, farmer-owned operations.

The FMP will be established formally within the next three months and have a regional structure. It intends to have an elected national board in place by September. UK milk producers are being urged to support the federation with an initial contribution of £1 a cow.

The driving force behind the formation of the FMP is John Loftus, who runs the Weeton Holstein herd near Kirkham, Lancs.

"Milk producers need to face the facts. Although milk prices have fallen by 9p a litre since 1996 only 4p of that has been caused by the strength of sterling. International commodity market weaknesses account for 2p and another 3p is because of our weak negotiating position."

Mr Loftus says this situation is not surprising considering that seven large processors are buying 80% of UK milk from over 100 uncoordinated selling groups.

Cheshire dairy farmer Ray Brown of Nantwich is another prime mover of the FMP. He says that reform of the MDC, including focussed research into improved marketing, is a priority for the new federation.

"It is quite unbelievable that the MDC takes £5m a year from our disappearing milk cheques to fund vast amounts of technical research we couldnt implement even it was useful."

However, Poul Christensen, chairman of Axis, the Midlands-based milk co-op, has hit out at the plan. He is also chairman of the UK Federation of Milk Producer Organisations which he claims already represents farmer-owned, quota-holding businesses marketing over 50% of the milk in the UK.

"The last thing farmers need is another representative body. We need more real co-operation between dairy farmers, not fragmentation, if we are to build a better future for dairy farming."

NFU milk committee chairman Terrig Morgan said the NFU had not yet seen the proposals but would give full consideration to plans may help dairy farmers out of their "desperate plight". &#42