Dairy protests ‘imminent’ after more milk price cuts

The spectre of renewed dairy protests has edged closer following a milk crisis meeting in Wales, held against the backdrop of the latest round of price cuts this week.

The meeting, hosted by dairy lobby group Farmers For Action (FFA), brought together about 240 dairy farmers at Carmarthen Livestock Market on Thursday evening (25 September).

The gathering was held amid reports that dairy farmers can expect yet further cuts to the milk price from early next week.

Farmers Weekly understands that a number of major milk processors will follow Arla’s lead and announce further milk price cuts from 1 November.

Pembrokeshire dairy farmer and west Wales FFA spokesman Nigel Batten said the cuts meant some producers would be receiving as little as 23p/litre for their milk.

With the latest costs of production at about 32p/litre, according to latest Tesco figures, Mr Batten said many dairy farmers could ill afford to sit around and see their businesses and livelihoods collapse.

“We, as dairy farmers, cannot survive on what is coming through,” he said. “We have got the single farm payment coming up in a couple of months.

“That will help. It’s possibly why some farmers are burying their heads in the sand. But that will be depleted over the next few years.

“We cannot keep on losing money hand over fist. The feeling within the dairy business is that we are going to have to go back to protests.”

See also: Five charts that explain the milk price crash

Mr Batten declined to comment on the timetable for protests or any specific targets.

But he added: “The supermarkets and processors should be extremely worried. It is going to go back to where we were two years ago.

“If it doesn’t, I would be very surprised if the effect is not a lack of milk on the supermarket shelves.

“Farmers are not going to sit back and watch these producers destroy our lives.”

Processors have blamed a global slump in dairy commodity prices due to large volumes of milk on the market as their reason for slashing milk prices.

By the end of August 2013, UK farmers had produced 5.8bn litres, but by the end of August this year, they had produced 6.3bn litres. This is 489m litres more so far than the 2013-14 milk year.

EU production is up 5.1% in the first half of the year and major dairy exporter New Zealand has produced 16.3% more milk.

Meanwhile, Russia banned Western food imports for a year in August, in retaliation for economic sanctions over the tensions in Ukraine.

Dairy has been one of the most-affected sectors, as the EU exported £1.8bn of milk-based products to Russia in 2013.

However, Farmers for Action has blamed processors for the current oversupply of milk and milk price crash. It said some processors encouraged farmers to increase milk production earlier this year when farmgate prices were very strong at 33-34p/litre.

Arla Foods UK members will see their milk price cut by 1.67p/litre this week. It is understood that other major processors will announce price cuts this Monday (29 October).

Read also: Dairy farmers warn of fresh price protests

FFA chairman David Handley told dairy farmers at the Carmarthen meeting that he was “deeply concerned” about Arla cutting its milk prices again, which affect about 3,000 of the UK’s 10,000 or so dairy farmers.

But he said the remaining 7,000 dairy farmers, who supply milk elsewhere, should not be dealt the full effect of global milk price cuts as 85% of their milk ends up on UK retail shelves.

Towards the end of the meeting in Carmarthen, Mr Handley asked dairy farmers if they would support direct action. The majority of farmers raised their hands in support.

Dairy farmers were then asked to raise their hands if they did not support a return to protests. No hands were raised.

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