Dairy crisis meeting attracts 700 farmers

Around 700 dairy farmers crammed into a dairy coalition meeting at Market Drayton in Shropshire on Thursday (11 October).

The NFU and lobby group Farmers for Action (FFA) hosted the meeting after it emerged that farmers were now paying 31.5p/litre on average to produce their milk.

After a summer of mass protests by angry farmers, leading dairy firms, including Robert Wiseman Dairies, Arla and Dairy Crest announced increases in the standard price they pay farmers for the milk to around 29p/litre.

However, many farmers are still being paid four or five pence per litre below the cost of production as they wait for cost increases to come through from October/November.

David Handley, chairman of FFA, told the meeting that the net costs of production were rising to more than 31p/litre and this needed to be reflected in higher prices paid to farmers.

Mr Handley said negotiations were continuing with supermarkets to increase milk prices, but stores that were not considering the difficulties farmers face would be “named and shamed” by the end of October.

Dairy farmer Paul Rowbottom, FFA spokesman for Derbyshire/Staffordshire, said: “Negotiations are ongoing. Iceland has said that they are prepared to pay farmers more money for the milk they produce.

“We are going back to Wiseman’s, Arla and Dairy Crest to try and get them to pay more money for December.

“We don’t want promises – we want the money in the bank. If we don’t get the money in this month, we will be out protesting again.”

Mr Rowbottom added that FFA had delivered an ultimatum to milk processors to pay farmers a standard price of 34p/litre for their milk by 1 January 2013.

“If they don’t come up with any more money, we will see another mass exodus by dairy farmers from the industry,” he said.

But NFU president Peter Kendall said farmers must be careful not to demand a milk price that the current market could not deliver.

“Dairy and pig farmers are still profoundly hurting. The weather has been horrendous for them, but it’s been the same for other farmers too, such as wheat producers,” said Mr Kendall.

“Dairy farmers cannot dominate the marketplace and say, ‘we have had a very bad summer, we want 35p/litre if the market around the world tells us it’s 27p/litre.’

“Farmers want to see the milk price nearer 31p/litre than 29p/litre, but it’s a matter of making sure the market works.”

With the exception of Farmfoods, nearly all the major firms have increased their milk prices, he added.

Mr Kendall said the voluntary code of practice for dairy contracts, agreed last month, will help farmers negotiate better prices as it allowed them to opt out of agreements more easily.

Dairy UK director-general Jim Begg said: “It’s been a tough summer, the input costs have been rising and the market has been fairly weak but it’s not just for farmers, it’s the whole industry.

“The markets have started to move and the milk prices are starting to reflect that which should be reassuring.

“Milk must be profitable at all levels across the supply chain. The key to the future is being able to control our costs not just at the farm level but across the industry and at the processing level too.”

Picture: Shropshire Star

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