Milk showdown at the Royal Welsh

Farm ministers Jim Paice is holding crisis talks with dairy processors and farm leaders in a bid to resolve the ongoing dispute over milk prices.

The meeting at the Royal Welsh Show on Monday (23 July) follows a fourth night of protests which saw dairies blockaded by hundreds of farmers in Somerset and the West Midlands.

Blockades included the Robert Wiseman Dairies plants at Bridgwater, Somerset; and Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire.

Processing plants were also blockaded in Shropshire.

Mr Paice met his ministerial counterparts from Scotland and Wales on the eve of the Royal Welsh Show on Sunday (22 July) after talks stalled again on a voluntary code of practice to oversee the relationship between dairy farmers and milk processors.

Talks brokered by Mr Paice between dairy processors and farm leaders are taking place at the Builth Wells event on Monday morning.

The sticking point continues to be the terms and conditions allowing farmers to walk away from milk contracts in the event of a price change that they disagree with.

Dairy Crest has agreed to allow farmers to terminate contracts with three months notice – rather than a year.

NFU president Peter Kendall described the proposal as a “good step forward” but the union says it is hard to comment further without full details.

Arla and Robert Wiseman Dairies have made no public statement regarding notice of termination.

And in the case of both processors, it remains unclear whether any decision to terminate contracts early would be up to individual farmers, or whether it would be decided at producer group level.

Milk price cuts to farmers have piled the pressure on all sides to reach an agreement.

A deal was almost reached a week ago, but little progress has been made since.

“It is wrong for either side to come to the table with additional demands now,” said one source close to the negotiations.

The ministerial meeting on Sunday saw Mr Paice hold talks with Welsh deputy farming minister Alun Davies and Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead.

In a statement, all three politicians agreed the dairy sector should have a profitable and sustainable future.

The industry needed to address both the immediate issue of the price paid for milk and also the structures and mechanisms that would help underpin the long term viability of the sector.

A code of practice on milk contracts was in the interest of the whole industry at this stage, said the ministers.

The industry should reach a rapid agreement, with effectiveness of the code to be subject to review within a year.

Mr Paice said he would raise within government the possibility of a role for the Grocery Code Adjudicator in providing a means of arbitration for any code;

Producer organisations were key to addressing the current imbalance in the market place in the longer term.