7 April 2000

TOUGH START FOR TRIPLETS TO PERFORM

MILK Marque triplets face a tough start after six years of disappointing performance from their predecessor, and many producers wont give them long to prove themselves.

Patrick Cock of Younghouse, Ashburton, Devon, has supported Milk Marque since its beginning and with a strong belief in co-op culture he will continue selling through Milk Link.

"But if its milk price is consistently 1p/litre below other buyers we cannot tolerate that for very long when a neighbour is getting more. But we have to give it a chance for 12 months, and need it to deliver as good a milk price as other buyers in the short term.

Producing more than 3m litres of milk a year from 375 cows, milked three times a day, means 1p/litre is worth a lot of money to the farm, he adds.

"If joint ventures begin, which make sense if they can enhance the milk price, Milk Link should be successful. And if co-ops are better supported they could also achieve a better price."

As a district rep, responsible for encouraging members to sign up to Milk Link, he has been given confidence by the management put in place. He hopes its new chief executive, Barry Nichols, will help drive it forward. But it needs to do things differently, he believes.

Its success will be essential to many of the smaller producers in his area. For many local producers their only other choice of buyer is Unigate or much smaller buyers, adds Mr Cock.

"Many members are saying the decision is not whether to stay with Milk Link, but whether to stay in milk," says Mr Cock.

He believes his herds output may give him more choice of buyer than other producers in his area. "But some direct supply contracts require you to sign for long periods, and we would need to consider that carefully."

Milk Link operations director, Neil MacFarlane, recognises that it has it has a tough job to do. But he was pleased with the success of its sign up campaign, when over 95% of potential members committed their milk to it by the end of February deadline.

Milk Link has also managed to secure a price higher than was predicted early in the latest selling round. From Apr 1 it will pay 16.6p for a standard litre, just 0.4p/litre lower than the last Milk Marque price.