Should the government and Brussels intervene to help dairy farmers? Or should producers tough it out alone? We asked industry leaders for their views.
Meurig Raymond, NFU
Government departments could lead the way on promoting British produce through their public procurement commitment.
I desperately hope they will take action because there is so much at stake and we will continue to drive that message home. Our members need urgent action.
There is an onus on the European commission too. We have heard the commission and French president Hollande talk about the European Investment Bank underwriting debt so that might be an avenue to help some of our farm businesses through this critical period.
We would like to see the whole market mechanism, including intervention, reviewed at a European level. Some of the formulas were put in place many years ago.
We have driven that message home to Defra secretary Liz Truss and the devolved ministers and there will be further talks on that.
Ian Marshall, Ulster Farmers’ Union
In Northern Ireland, we export 85% of our produce and we are very exposed to commodity markets.
There is a mechanism that can address this – namely intervention. And we feel that circumstances are such that we haven’t got the luxury of time to wait.
Intervention has been necessary in other industries – the government intervened in the market to ensure that the banking industry got through its crisis.
We feel that this situation is no different. We firmly believe that intervention is a tool that we cannot afford not to utilise at the moment.
It is not so much the intervention price per se that is the issue, it is about changing the formula and making the price more meaningful and relevant.
We need to revisit the discussion and relook at the formula – we cannot afford to wait because a lot of businesses will go out of business.
Allan Bowie, NFU Scotland
We have to get retailers together – as well as other users of milk, lamb and other products – so we can try to thrash out an answer to this problem.
This is not just a UK problem, it is European and global. It is a matter of urgency that governments understand that – and step in and deal with it.
We are not against the open market. We understand we have to be efficient. But in this extreme volatility, you need really to call time out and try to address some of the problems.
We have asked the minister to look at the whole supply chain and ask whether it is working.
Farmers are not getting enough reward for the risk they are taking – and some practices are loading more risk on to farmers.
They are selling at less than the cost of production and efficiencies won’t get you through that. We need to address the short-term problems so we can look long term.
Stephen James, NFU Cymru
Extreme volatility is something we are not used to and until we learn to live with extreme volatility, we have to have some help to deal with it.
I am confident that the situation will reverse. But it may take 12 months or more.
Europe can make a big difference. Commissioner Hogan keeps telling us that the European Investment Bank is there to support farmers – particularly young farmers. They are among those suffering most because they haven’t got that financial track record.
There was no indication that prices would fall to this level. The lamb trade is difficult too because producers work on smaller margins.
The £15-£30 a head that farmers are losing on lambs is a vital part of the encouragement to keep farming and going forward.
The whole industry is working in extremely difficult conditions.
After an open exchange of views, it was agreed that transparency in origin labelling and improved branding were important for consumers to be able to choose British products as easily as possible.
We were pleased to see that the government is progressing the agenda on public procurement and is keen to support the industry on exports.
Dairy UK also renewed its call for the EU Commission to raise the intervention price. We believe this is an urgently needed measure to ease the pressure on the sector.
In the long term, we need a collaborative approach throughout the supply chain to develop a toolbox to handle the impact of volatility which, as we know, is now an inherent part of the milk market.