Union outlines vision for profitable dairy sector

NFU Scotland has urged dairy farmers, government and all parts of the supply chain – particularly retailers and processors – to do more to ensure a profitable future for the Scottish dairy sector.

Speaking at yesterday’s (27 May) Dairy Summit in Edinburgh, NFUS chief executive James Withers set out a three-pronged approach to meeting the summit’s aims of stability, sustainability and profitability for the sector.

“All the ingredients needed for Scottish dairy farmers to be successful are in place, but are failing to produce consistent returns at farm level,” he said. “Our dairy farmers contribute more than £300m to the nation’s agricultural output and are among the most efficient and committed in the world.”

But action was needed from all involved to improve margins, boost producer confidence and encourage long-term investment.

Mr Withers said government administrations and other parts of the chain had failed to provide a stable platform for dairy farmers to invest long-term. In particular, he wanted to see a level playing field for policy and urged the Scottish government to abandon plans that could see dairy farmers have support payments sliced to fund the sheep sector.

Dairy farms in less favoured areas should receive the same support as those who keep beef or sheep and he believed the Scottish government could find funding to so.

The government should also recognise the important role that dairy made to the beef sector and ensure beef-cross calves from the dairy herd were eligible to receive Scottish Beef Calf Scheme payments, he said.

The decision by the “big three” supermarkets – Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury – not to attend the summit also highlighted the need for a supermarket Ombudsman and Mr Withers called on the Scottish government to help deliver that.

Clearer labelling was the main issue the whole supply chain had to address, Mr Withers said. He called for a code of practice to ensure the country of origin of all milk and dairy products was clearly identified on the label.

“This would be much more beneficial than the current arrangement that allows some retailers to hide behind labelling rules and label imported products as ‘packed’ in the UK.”

Farmers also had a part to play by building on efficiency gains and investing in the business and new technology to remain as competitive as possible, Mr Withers said. “This will allow us to capitalise on market opportunities that may emerge in the future.”