Hundreds of dairy farmers turned out last night to protest at falling milk prices, blockading Morrisons’ distribution centre in Somerset and bringing lorries to a standstill.
In the second major protest of the week, more than 500 farmers gathered despite the thunderstorms, and brought the centre to a halt for several hours.
By midnight, the tailback was well over a mile long, and Farmers For Action promised to target more processors and supermarkets over the coming weeks.
“There is a serious issue here and we need to make people aware,” said FFA chairman David Handley.
“Morrisons are re-tendering their dairy business and to quote one of the processors involved: ‘They’re making us go to hell and back’. Without farmers getting together we would never be able to get the message across.”
Mr Handley rejected claims that the price slashes were related to weak global commodity markets, as 85% of UK production remained within the country.
“We said at the beginning of last year that if we turn the taps on the basis that China and Russia were going to be our panacea we were going to be in trouble. We should only produce when we know there is going to be a sustainable milk price.”
Tessa Munt, MP for Wells, was in attendance and assured farmers that she would take the message back to central government. “If something doesn’t turn for the better soon, many of our farmers will be out of business before people catch up,” she said.
Although feelings were running high, morale was boosted with such a vast turnout and with so many young people attending. Russell Ashford, who milks at Bowden Farm, Buckfastleigh, blamed supermarket competition for undermining the industry.
“They’re devaluing a product that should be being promoted as the nourishing healthy food that it is,” he said. “When supermarkets have a sales drive, we’re always the ones that are expected to cover the cost.”
Following price cuts of around 20%, many farmers were making a loss on every litre of milk produced.
With milk selling for less than the price of water, David Hunt from Manor Farm, South Brent, reckoned he was losing 3p/litre. “Not that long ago we were looking to invest further into the business, but those plans have gone out of the window.”
Colin Wrayford of Yeo Farm, Newton Abbot, saw his first price cut of 1p/litre in September, followed by another 1.75p/litre this month.
With another 1.3p/litre cut proposed in November, he would be producing 2p/litre below the cost of production. “Processors and retailers have a lot to answer for,” he said. “If we hadn’t turned up tonight we could see another cut. Hopefully this will put a stop to the November cuts.”
James Hole, Somerset’s FFA representative, said that negotiations were ongoing, with protests a last resort. “Somewhere the links in the chain have come off. The past few weeks haven’t been easy and now we find ourselves here. When we look back a few years ago, things were resolved faster this way.”
Morrisons responded with the following statement by Martyn Jones, director of Group Corporate Services.
He said, “Morrisons have real sympathy for dairy farmers suffering from price cuts prompted by unparalleled movements in global dairy commodity prices.
“Suggestions that our milk supply tender is a response to the current market situation however, are entirely untrue – we can confirm that our current five year milk contracts continue early in to next year.
“We have always agreed that new mechanisms to help the industry cope with volatile price movements must be developed and we are committed to developing them with our processors.
“We started on this in 2013 through a transparent pricing model for farmers in a First Milk cheese contract which removes some price volatility. We’d like to extend these principles in to future liquid milk supply contracts.”
Photo: David Hedges/SWNS