EU milk war threatens UK farmers

Protests against low milk prices by European dairy farmers threaten to engulf British producers.

A fresh wave of milk demonstrations is seen as inevitable after EU ministers failed to come up with any new measures to support the dairy market.

Governments within individual member states were now under immense pressure, said NFU Dairy Board chairman Gwyn Jones.

In some countries, governments might be forced to grant their farmers national aid, he told delegates at Woodland Grange, Warwickshire, on Tuesday (13 October).

“The situation for them is dire and it is not going to improve for them this winter,” said Mr Jones.

But national aid in other European countries would not favour British dairy farmers, he added.

The NFU was opposed to any return of supply chain management, Mr Jones said.

Retail contracts had helped to hold up UK milk prices. But processors were continuing to import significant amounts of cheap Irish cheese, penalising efficient UK grassland farmers in the process.

Selling cheese at £400/tonne below the cost of production was unsustainable, said Mr Jones. But there were hopeful developments, such as Sainsbury’s dedicated cheese line with Milk Link.

Meanwhile, Mr Jones will give evidence to the House of Commons EFRA Committee inquiry into the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain on Wednesday (14 Oct).

More former DFoB suppliers were being offered contracts as the milk market recovered, he told delegates. But the NFU remains concerned about the cherry-picking by some companies of larger dairy farmers.

Mr Jones also voiced dismay that some companies were continuing to pay farmers below the cost of production for milk.