Protesting farmers have blockaded a supermarket distribution centre amid fears that processors could cut be forced to cut farmgate milk prices.
About 100 farmers protested outside the Co-op distribution centre at Somercotes, Alfreton, Derbyshire, late on Wednesday (18 April).
Milk producers travelled from as far away as Herefordshire and Lancashire to attend the protest, which was organised by Farmers For Action.
The depot was targeted because dairy processors were blaming supermarkets for trying to drive down milk prices, protest spokesman Paul Rowbottom told Farmers Weekly.
Farmer-owned co-operative First Milk was jut one processor that had warned it could be forced to cut the farmgate price for producers on its cheese contract, said Mr Rowbottom.
“We are here to try to stop the price cut First Milk has talked about,” he added. Many farmers were already making heavy losses on every litre of milk produced.
First Milk has faced repeated calls for clarity after warning earlier this month that the sector was coming to a “crunch point” due to large volumes of cheddar imported from Ireland.
The company has admitted that price cuts could be on the cards for cheese producers, but is continuing talks with its retail customers in a bid to increase returns from the cheese market.
A spokeswoman for the Co-operative food group said the retailer was one of the UK’s biggest supporters of British farmers.
“In the last few weeks, we have significantly increased the amount we pay for milk for cheese production to First Milk, which provides the vast majority of our own-brand cheese.”
The protest raises the prospect of a repeat of last summer’s SOS Dairy protests, which forced milk buyers to reverse planned price cuts.
But better farmgate prices since then have been more than offset by bigger increases in farm input costs, lack of forage and the impact of a cold, wet winter.
A crisis meeting has been called by West Country farmers, who have seen their margins continue to be pressured by soaring costs and stagnant farmgate prices.
Hundreds of farmers are expected to attend the meeting, which will take place at Holsworthy memorial hall, Devon, at 7.30pm on Wednesday (24 April).