Farmer submissions to Competition Commission increase but more needed

Farmers are slowly starting to put forward submissions to the Competition Commission inquiry into the groceries market – but many letters point out that they cannot give “evidence” about the way supermarkets operate because they do not supply retailers directly.

When the Competition Commission published its emerging thinking document at the end of January just seven farmers had responded to its call for submissions.

But over the past two months this figure has crept to above 20 – many of them from dairy producers.

One submission, from a farm business in Glos – said: “We note that very few farmers responded to your first invitation for evidence. We think you understand why this is and we expect you to recognise that ‘No evidence’ does not equate to ‘No problem’.

It added: “We are dairy farmers with specific ‘significant difficulties’ on farm. We share these with every dairy farmer not fortunate enough – just a few are – to hold a contract from one of the more enlightened milk buyers who are passing back a decent share of the retail price of milk and milk products to ensure secure supplies. Such contracts are hard to come by for historic or locational reasons.”

In another, an anonymous group of dairy farmers said: “There has been concern that, as we producers have not been making our situation known to you, perhaps there isn’t really a problem. I can assure you there is.

“The main problem we face in giving you facts is that, as we supply our milk direct to processors, we are one removed from the retailers and so don’t get involved enough to know just where the problem lies.

“The retailers feel the need for a price hike, so they tell the processor, Co ops and PLCs alike that, ‘as from such a date’ the price will drop.

“The processors, in turn, then write and inform us that, ‘as from the end of the month our milk price will drop’. We can do nothing about it. Except sell up (as so many are doing) or ring the bank for an increase in overdraft facilities.”