Devolved governments told to match Defra dairy package

The UK devolved governments are being challenged to take urgent action to support their dairy farmers after Defra pledged hardship funding for England.

Farm minister George Eustice announced a fund on Wednesday (6 May), enabling English dairy farmers to access up to £10,000 to help them overcome the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

However, the new funding will not apply to dairy farmers in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, who together continue to produce more than 40m litres of milk each day.

See also: Coronavirus: 4 tips for dairy farmers hit by slump in milk demand

The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish governments have yet to make any public announcement of funding support for their own dairy farmers, many of whom have also been severely affected by the crisis.

Demand for milk and dairy products has fallen in the food service and hospitality sector due to the temporary closure of pubs, canteens, cafes and restaurants.

Dairy farmers supplying the food service sector have been forced to pour away thousands of litres of their milk owing to a drop in demand. They have also suffered falls in farmgate prices to well below the cost of production, and payments have been delayed, leaving many dairy farming businesses on the brink of collapse.

‘Pull your finger out’

In Wales, former Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies, urged Wales’ rural affairs minister, Lesley Griffiths, to “pull your finger out”.

“Good step from Defra and UK government,” said Mr Davies, Conservative assembly member for South Wales Central, writing on his Facebook page.

“Now Welsh Labour government – what are you going to do for farmers and the dairy industry in Wales? They need urgent support. Either bring forward a bespoke package or amend the economic resilience fund criteria.”

The two main farming unions, NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW), signalled their disappointment that the Labour-led Welsh government had not yet taken similar action to support dairy farmers in Wales.

FUW milk and dairy produce committee chairman Dai Miles said the Defra package would come as a welcome lifeline for many English farmers, even though losses on many farms would far exceed the support being offered.

“We need to see a similar lifeline being offered by the Welsh government in the coming days, to protect hard-hit Welsh farms and the families, businesses and employees who rely on them,” he added.

Ivor Ferguson, president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), said specific direct support for dairy farmers was “imperative”, especially since farmgate milk prices look set to deteriorate in the medium term.

Governments respond

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The closure of the foodservice sector has had an immediate and significant impact on our dairy sector and market prices, and we are monitoring the situation very closely.

“We are in regular contact with Defra and the devolved administrations to monitor the current position and longer term trends.

“The Welsh government is engaging closely with industry stakeholders in Wales, including the Agriculture Resilience Group (ARG) and the Dairy Focus Group, to discuss all viable options, including what additional assistance might be appropriate for those most affected in our dairy industry.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are aware that some dairy producers in Scotland have also been impacted by the loss of markets in the service industry.

“We are meeting shortly with producers to explore what, if any, additional assistance might be appropriate for the sector in Scotland.”

The Defra announcement followed news that AHDB and industry stakeholders have launched a new £1m promotional campaign to boost sales of dairy products by encouraging the public to drink more milk.