British expat joins French milk protesters

Catherine Mellangé, who farms in partnership with three other French farmers in Normandy, has not had her milk collected for over a week, preferring instead to pour it away.

She is one of thousands of French dairy farmers who have taken part in the wave of milk protests sweeping the country, in an attempt to force the EU to keep milk quotas to regulate milk production.

Catherine, who originates from Herefordshire, but has farmed in France for three years, says the root of the problem was when the Sarkozy government scrapped the old system of setting milk prices at the start of every season and moved the sector to free market contracts.

“Our milk price dropped by 10 cents/litre (9p/litre) almost overnight,” she said. She is now receiving just 21 cents/litre (18.7p/litre), compared with 31.7 cents/litre (28.2p/litre) last March.

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Support was really growing for the milk strike, she told Farmers Weekly.

“A week ago we had a demonstration in our town and there were about 10 farmers present. This week there were 50. I reckon we now have about 80% of dairy farmers in this area withholding their milk.”

Catherine and her partners milk 120 Normandie cows at their farm near Carrouges in Normandy, selling to a co-operative, Agrial. As well as withholding 16,000 litres of milk so far, she also took part in a milk spraying demonstration by over 300 French dairy farmers near Mont St Michel on the French coast last Friday (18 September).

“There were eight tractors from our area and it took us five hours to get there, towing slurry spreaders full of milk. By the time we arrived, the field was already full of tractors, so we had to go to another field. It was an impressive display, especially since the organisers only had 36 hours to arrange it.”

Catherine says the situation is getting desperate and, like many of her neighbours, is disillusioned with the approach taken by Brussels, the government and the main French farming union, the FNSEA, which opposes the strike.

“We need a coherent policy,” she says. “But the one thing we must do is regulate the milk supply. Whenever the price of oil slips, OPEC gets together to cut supplies. We need to do the same with milk.

“This is not a demo just about the milk price,” she adds. “It is about saving our way of life. Reducing the number of dairy farmers means the death of the countryside, especially since the farmers most affected by this crisis are the ones just starting and with large investments.

“Controlling milk production is the only solution. Consumers will not lose out. Just look at the UK, which is deregulated and shows how farmgate prices are reduced, but shop prices increase.”

Catherine is also disillusioned by the lack of action being taken by British dairy farmers as more and more go out of business. “It always strikes me, whenever I go back to Herefordshire, just how empty the countryside is. There is no new investment going on and it’s quite rare to see a herd of dairy cows. I don’t want to see France going that way.”

* For more images and comments, see Phil Clarke’s Business Blog

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