Dairy leaders threaten new round of milk protests

Dairy leaders are threatening further protests against Farmfoods over the milk price cuts after a “disappointing” round of talks with company leaders.

David Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action, held talks with Eric Heard, managing director of Farmfoods, in Birmingham on Monday (13 August) in a bid to secure a fairer milk price that reflects farmers’ cost of production.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Handley expressed his frustration at being unable to secure any breakthrough.

“Basically, he (Mr Heard) was quite difficult in his approach. He said we could blockade his depots and protest outside his stores with leaflets – it didn’t bother him,” said Mr Handley.

“He was not able to discuss anything of any substance. It’s disappointing. But he said he will talk to his processors and come back to us within six weeks.”

Hundreds of farmers staged a three-pronged attack at Farmfoods’ depots in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, Warrington in Cheshire and Solihull near Birmingham last Monday (6 August).

And Mr Handley said further protests against the middle-ground retailer Farmfoods could not be ruled out.

“Farmfoods are right at the top of our agenda – but so are the three main processors (Arla, Dairy Crest and Wiseman),” he added.

“There are just 14 days left in the month and we have had no communication from them in relation to finding the money that was taken from dairy farmers in the spring milk price cuts.”

Mr Handley said he expected further protests would be held before the end of the week.

“They need to understand that we have not gone away,” he added. “The resolve of dairy farmers is stronger than ever.”

Meanwhile, FFA vice chairman Andrew Hemming and NFU dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond held talks with Irish Dairy Board (IDB) managers at the company site in Leek, Staffordshire on Monday (13 August) to seek reassurances on the British cheese market.

IDB ships up to €2bn worth of Irish dairy products overseas each year. It owns the Kerrygold and Pilgrims Choice brands.

“IDB imports Irish cheese, but they are also the biggest buyers of British cheese,” said Mr Handley.

“They have told us they don’t want to crash the UK market (with Irish exports of cheese into Britain) as some people are suggesting.

“In particular, they are looking further away from the UK and seeking to grow their markets in southern Africa and China.”

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Raymond described the talks about the current status of the cheese market as “frank, but cordial”.

“Dairy farmers have had the most difficult summer that anyone can remember as far as the weather is concerned. They have also suffered huge increases in costs over the past six months,” said Mr Raymond.

“We made it absolutely clear how difficult it is for milk producers at the moment. They (the IDB) have agreed to continue a dialogue.”

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