Angry producers hit out at speakers supporting the NFU dairy workshop and warned of serious protesting if action is not taken urgently to address unfairness in the milk market.
In a furious outburst from the floor, dairy farmer Ian Sharman told panellists: “You lot (the co-ops, processors and retailers) are shafting the UK dairy industry. All we want is a fair share of what we deserve. It is time the talking finished. We are going to start walking. If you don’t do something about prices and contracts soon, you will have major unrest, I promise you”.
Mr Sharman addressed a panel made up of Jim Begg, from Dairy UK, Kate Allum from First Milk, and Richard Taylor from Morrison Supermarkets. His call for more flexible contracts, which enabled farmers to get out if not happy with their deal, was roundly supported by a room packed full of dairy farmers.
He later told Farmers Weekly that he felt let down by processors and other producers who were far too apathetic about the plight of their businesses.
“I would like them to stand up and be counted. To bang on doors and get some action to put things right”, he said. Mr Sharman has 450 cows in Nottinghamshire and has been directly supplying Clawson Dairies for the last three years.
Jim Begg of Dairy UK urged dairy producers to demand clearer explanations from processors and retailers about why better prices were taking so long to filter back to the farm gate. He also pointed out that the value in the chain in the future is in added value products and not commodity markets.
Mansel Raymond, chairman of the NFU Dairy Board, challenged Richard Taylor of Morrisons about unfair retailer behaviour and reminded delegates that the UK had dropped to 16-17th position in Europe on the milk price paid to the producer.
Richard Taylor tried to explain why the retailer did not currently have its own dedicated milk producer group like its competitors.
“Morrisons has not gone down that route because thinking ahead we are not convinced that picking winners is the best way forward. We want to do our best for the whole industry not just a few. My understanding is that there is a postcode lottery on whether you get a dedicated arrangement or not.”
The audience also heard that by 2020 there will be around 8700 dairy farmers left in the UK – about 30-40% fewer. The average size of herd is expected to increase to 220 cows with 8000 litres likely to be the average yield. This is assuming the dairy sector continues to be competitive.
Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011