17 May 2002

Prince hears of family farms worry for future

By Simon Wragg

PRINCE Charles has been told that family farms face a bleak future unless they can take a bigger percentage of retail prices.

The Prince met members of the Heart of England dairy co-op in Staffs during a fact-finding tour on May 14.

Producers from the co-op spelled out the need to get more margin from the retail end of the food chain if family farms are to survive.

The closed meeting at Christopher & Mary Bradburys Swansmoor Farm, Great Haywood, near Stafford, went on for over an hour with the Prince discussing his experience and support for co-operative ventures.

Mr Bradbury, whose son, Mark, helps manage the familys purebred Friesian dairy herd, told the Prince that the future for dairy farms was bleak without the support of co-ops. Sharing of margins meant producers were getting 18.25p/litre for milk before seasonality, a higher price than many direct sellers.

Although the Prince, as president of Business in the Community, wants more co-operation in farming and believes in the benefits of local sourcing of food products, delegates aired concern that branding a commodity product such as milk offered less opportunities than other foods.

The Princes visit allowed him to see a successful co-op in action, but delegates warned that the collapse of ventures such as Viking Cereals and loss of co-operative prices for organic milk had dented producers confidence.

Given farm incomes have suffered, the Prince encouraged producers to look forward, adding that joint ventures on his own Duchy enterprises had taken several years to establish and gain support, reported delegates.

During the discussion, Leics-based dairy producer Chris Timmis left the Prince in no doubt that retailers needed to do their bit for co-operation by sharing more of the retail margin with producers. "At the moment, that is where co-operation stops," he said.

"As producers we get 18.25p/litre for our milk and the processor assures us he is only taking a few pence more. It is frustrating then to see milk selling in the shop at 43p/litre and yet none of that margin is being passed back down the chain," he added.

There was also a need for co-ops to do more sharing, added Heart of England chairman and Leics dairy farmer John Bodycote. "Members need to have access to information on what a co-op is doing and how business is progressing. Without it, producers will not have the confidence to trust management to protect their interests.

"We, fortunately, have a good record, but producers are always looking for more information particularly about markets for dairy products."

With the Prince expected to meet farm ministers and the boss of at least one leading retailer in the next few weeks, delegates hoped their concerns would be passed on. &#42

Eyes and ears… Prince Charles listened to the fears of family farmers as he toured Swansmoor Farm, near Stafford.