The Alliance has identified three courses of action:

  • A campaign aimed at the public;
  • A feasibility study to determine the viability of a Single Milk Agency (SMA); and
  • Raising the milk crisis on the political agenda. 

The approach is, therefore, public, practical and political, that in combination will address the short and long-term goals of recreating a viable, sustainable dairy sector.

The ‘Alliance‘ comprises of Small Farms Association (SFA), FARM, Farmers for Action (FFA) and the Farmers Union of Wales (FUW). The NFU and the RABDF have left the alliance but the RABDF remains supportive of the alliance‘s aims.

Since their July meeting at the Royal Show, the group has met on three subsequent occasions to investigate the workings of the dairy chain and draw up proposals they believe will lead to a sustainable dairy sector and a fair price for milk to farmers. The result of these discussions is a strong consensus and that will lead to action.

Campaigns
The Alliance is endorsing the Just Milk Campaign launched by FARM in September that seeks to engage the general public with the plight of dairy farmers and win their support for a fair farmgate price for milk.

Through its collective strength the Alliance hopes to gain greater exposure for the campaign and put increased pressure on Tesco as market leader to act responsibly, stop paying poverty milk prices and ensure that dairy farmers get a fair price; also, to acknowledge that a sustainable dairy sector depends on a high number and diversity of farmers.

The “Just Milk” campaign seeks to engage the public in the campaign to highlight the issues about the true facts associated with cheap milk, such as:

  • Farmers going out of business – in their thousands (a third of dairy herds have gone since 2000 and 10% more are forecast to go this year)
  • Rural poverty and erosion of communities leading to rural deprivation
  • Threat to food security and the diversity of our milk supply
  • Environmental degradation – threat to wildlife habitats (loss of biodiversity)

The Alliance agreed on the importance of engaging with the general public on an issue that, ultimately, affects wider public and consumer values as well as the farming community itself.

The campaign is calling on the public to use their considerable power as consumers to pressurise Tesco into taking a lead among the multiples and end paying poverty prices to producers – to stop the British dairy sector haemorrhaging, and to stop the loss of wider public values.

The campaign, which began on 20th November, will intensify until the end for this year on 10th December, with action planned across the UK from Scotland to Cornwall and campaigners bringing the Just Milk message direct to Tesco customers.

Single Milk Agency
The second initiative the Alliance has signed up to progressing is the proposal of a Single Milk Agency. The Alliance started from the fundamental understanding that, for long-term sustainability of milk production, the negotiating position of dairy farmers must be improved.

An important function of the Single Milk Agency would be to address one of the major factors that drives down farmgate prices.

It was highlighted in the recent MDC report that although only a relatively small proportion of milk is processed into commodity items such as skimmed milk powder (SMP) this low, “utility” price sets the tone of the market.

The majority of milk that producers supply is destined for markets that are branded as “fresh”, “regional” or otherwise value-added and therefore some distinction in the supply chain is needed to ensure producers benefit from the profits currently enjoyed by processors and retailers.

The potential benefits fall into 4 main areas: ~

Fair prices

  • Fair farmgate price that provides the producer with a fair return for time and investment.
  • Proper remuneration for producing safe, healthy food to high environmental and welfare standards
  • The SMA would create closer links between producers and consumers.
  • The SMA would also address the problem of milk destined for the lower value commodity markets dragging down the value of milk destined for higher value markets.
  • Contracts would be structured to reflect the cost of complying with the buyer’s requirements ~ the higher the quality/standard, the higher the price paid to the producer.
     

Security and trust

  • Work towards providing greater transparency in the milk chain
  • Farmers should be offered more security through contracts that reflect the length of time and investment required to change milk supply
     

Coordination

  • Co-ordination of supply and demand to avoid surplus production of milk that inevitably leads to the erosion of milk prices.
  • The SMA would support the MDC’s role in providing applied R & D.
  • Co-ordinate specific Product innovation.
     

Efficiency

  • To support producer co-ops in achieving operating efficiencies and streamlining distribution, logistics and producer support services.
  • Milk brokerage would be brought under a single, coordinated agency

The first steps towards delivering a SMA are to secure an independent feasibility study to determine the viability of an SMA. Such a study would be a highly valuable step forwards.

Political Pressure
The growing public concern about the struggling dairy industry has created the right climate to increase awareness and action within political circles. The Alliance will drive the issue up the political agenda.

It demands to know from politicians what they are going to do to address the dire situation dairy farmers; not only does the Alliance want to know but rapidly increasing numbers of the public wants to know.

Present milk prices are producing a mass exodus from dairy farming, with an average of 40 farms leaving every week. The Alliance fears that if prices fall even lower than current levels the future prospects are even grimmer generating an even greater exodus from the sector once CAP Reform kicks in 2005. This is the driving force that has created this historic coalition.

The Alliance is committed to delivering a solution in the coming months on the farmgate price of milk and a Single Milk Agency. To achieve these aims, it is set on an ambitious and comprehensive approach that is public, practical and political in order to secure a future for the British dairy farmer.

The Alliance is calling for the support of every single dairy farmer, those with an interest in the countryside and rural communities that are dependent on a viable dairy sector to support the campaign.