Defra recruits fair milk contracts adjudicator

Defra is recruiting an agricultural supply chain adjudicator to scrutinise dairy processors’ implementation of forthcoming regulations on fair dealings in farmgate milk supply contracts.

The £75,000-a-year role carries statutory backing to investigate and decide whether a processor has breached the regulations and to impose penalties of up to 1% of turnover where breaches are found.

The adjudicator will also be able to instruct non-compliant processors to pay compensation to milk producers.

See also: Dairy contracts put to parliament in quest for fairer treatment

The Fair Dealing Obligations (Milk) Regulations were laid before parliament on 21 February, but must pass through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords before they come into force.

The adjudicator role was advertised on 19 February, with applications closing this week on 6 March.

Defra is using public services recruitment specialist GatenbySanderson for the role, for which it is looking for someone with experience in commercial law or contractual dealings and knowledgeable in the workings of the agri-food chain. The role is described as fast-paced and in a priority policy area for the department.

The workload is likely to expand to encompass similar regulations in the UK pig sector, due to be introduced later in 2024, and potential expansion into eggs and fresh produce.

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes welcomed the recruitment as a positive move. “For the first time ever, this will put someone between the farmer and the first customer, and it will be expanded into other sectors,” he said.

The role is initially part-time – two to three days a week – possibly moving to full-time, with the successful applicant making binding decisions independently but on behalf of ministers.

The adjudicator has the power to issue financial penalties including a fine of up to 1% of a dairy processor’s turnover if it is found to be in breach of the regulations.

Key responsibilities include issuing guidance on how the legal text of the regulations should be interpreted and providing advice on compliance, compiling an annual report covering enforcement activities, investigations, trends and issues.

The £75,000-a-year salary will attract a £20,250 annual employer’s pension contribution from Defra.