30 August 2002

Union threatens direct action over low milk prices

By FW reporters

SUPERMARKETS have been given three weeks to pay farmers more for milk or face blockades at their distribution depots.

NFU Scotland has broken ranks with unions in England and Wales and decided that the time has come for direct action.

It is threatening a sustained campaign of depot blockades. The first protest is timed to coincide with negotiations on milk prices for delivery from October.

Union leader Jim Walker said: "Let no one be in any doubt. If we dont get a clear signal that farmgate milk prices will rise, then Thursday, Sept 19, will see the start of a series of demonstrations in Scotland.

"Farming businesses are on the line, with families only looking for a living. We have no option but to fight for their future."

Mr Walker said he had spent spent the past year trying to persuade buyers, processors and supermarkets that an average milk price of 15p/litre was totally unsustainable. "On average, it costs around 19p/litre, yet the average litre of milk is sold in supermarkets for 45p."

Supermarket bosses claimed they supported British farmers. But Mr Walker said buyers were squeezing the supply chain so hard that there was nothing left after the retailers and processors had taken their margin. Big retailers were the most likely link in the chain where farmers could have an effect, he added.

Details of which supermarket distribution depots will be targeted first will be revealed nearer the time. NFU Scotland also plans to highlight the grief in the cereals sector by blockading ports that take grain deliveries.

Mr Walker urged Scotlands 2000 dairy farmers to "get off their backsides" and join the demonstrations.

For too long, he suggested, producers had been the first to moan and the last to do anything. Mr Walker hoped protests by NFU Scotland members might encourage the NFU in England to join them.

Yet none of the main unions, including the NFUS, supported a day of action last Fri (Aug 23). One in five of farmers are said to have taken part in a 24-hour strike organised by Farmers For Action. Producers pulled the plug on milk supplies, refused to market livestock and withheld grain. &#42

Unions leaders feared that the day-long stoppage could backfire and threaten farmers livelihoods. But strike leader David Handley said: "We can all feel justifiably proud of the impact we made. We achieved all of our targets and more."