Defra secretary Liz Truss insists she understands the seriousness of the situation facing UK dairy farmers battling against low milk prices.
Ms Truss and farm ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland held talks with UK farm leaders on Monday (17 August).
The two-hour meeting at Defra’s office in London was attended by the presidents of the NFU, NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru and Ulster Farmers Union.
In a statement issued afterwards, Ms Truss described the meeting as encouraging, saying she convened the summit to help farmers through what was a “tough period”.
She added: “I recognise the seriousness of the current situation for the dairy industry and for farming as a whole.
“Our hard working farmers and the £100bn food and farming industry are vital for our economy and our countryside.”
Despite recent price increases by supermarkets who have pledged to pay 26-28p/litre for milk, many farmers face production costs in excess of 30p/litre.
Ms Truss said: “I believe we can help build stronger foundations that give the industry the long-term stability and commercial opportunities it needs to manage global volatility.”
A global milk surplus was causing low prices around the world – well beyond the control of farmers, acknowledged Ms Truss.
“I want to see this situation taken seriously by the EU, who have the means to help farmers manage this volatility and build resilience.”
Ms Truss will meet her fellow European farm ministers to discuss problems facing the farming sector at an emergency meeting in Brussels on 7 September.
She said: “I will be emphasising the need for a futures market and insurance for dairy products – as they already have for cereal farmers – to give them long-term security over price.”
Meanwhile, the government was urgently setting up a new working group with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to develop best practice models with the industry.
Ms Truss said she also wanted to see better branding and clearer labelling of dairy products in supermarkets, retailers and throughout the catering industry.
People would then know when they were buying British dairy products, said Ms Truss. “We have agreed to have further discussions with the food industry on this,” she said.
“Dairy exports topped £1.4bn last year but I am determined to see this rise even more.
“I have invited the dairy industry to play a bigger role in future trade missions, including my trip to China in the autumn where there is growing demand for quality British produce.”