Opinion: Farmer voices needed in dairy contract consultation

Michael Oakes, chairman of the NFU dairy board gives his views on why dairy farmers should get involved in the government’s dairy contract consultation.

Dairy farmers, for once, have an opportunity to take back some control of our own destiny.

Among all the challenges that have arisen this year as a result of Covid-19, we all now have the chance to make our voice heard by contributing to the government consultation on dairy contracts.

It’s an opportunity we must not miss, and could shape the way we do business for generations to come.

For too long, dairy farmers have borne far too much of the risk in the dairy supply chain and contracts are often at the root of many of the problems. That’s why the NFU has been calling for change, and we are far from a lone voice.

An independent review conducted by the Grocery Code Adjudicator in 2018 also concluded that “there is an imbalance of power within the dairy supply chain”.

See also: Dairy Contract Reform: How did we end up here?

I know for some dairy farmers the relationship with their processors has improved in the past few years, with co-op and producer organisations leading to better relationships and putting dairy farmers in a stronger position.

We do not seek to try to fix things that are not broken. But we do need to address the many examples where farmers remain in a desperately poor position because of their milk contract and relationship with their buyers.

In the past few months, we have seen a large number of cases where farmers have borne a disproportionate amount of the cost in the supply chain as the risks within the marketplace were shunted down to farm level at an alarming pace.

We need all dairy farmers to get involved as well because only by working together can we make sure that this consultation produces benefits for us all

This is unjust, unfair, and cannot be allowed to continue.

Dairy farmers want to place themselves in a more sustainable position for the long term and dairy contracts are at the heart of this. We want to see flexible and innovative regulation that not only delivers fair terms for farmers, but an equitable balancing of risk between farmers and buyers.

This is not about creating a tool to hammer the processors with, it is about transparency in relationships and working towards a better, more sustainable industry.

Defra farming minister Victoria Prentis agrees. She said recently “it is absolutely vital that our dairy farmers are paid fairly for their high-quality produce and I am committed to cracking down on any unfair practices within the UK dairy industry”.

I hope she sticks to her word and helps to drive change in how dairy contracts are allowed to operate.

We have been working with all the UK farming unions, those in the industry, processors, retailers, and of course speaking with fellow dairy farmers to get a range of views that will form the basis of our submission to government.

But we need all dairy farmers to get involved as well because only by working together can we make sure that this consultation produces benefits for us all.

Even if you think you may not be affected by unfair practices at present, get involved with this consultation as I’m sure you have colleagues or neighbours who aren’t in such a fortunate position.

Remember, things can change quickly in the dairy sector and we need to do what we can to put dairy farmers in a better position for the future.  

The consultation closes on 15 September, so please do visit the Defra website and have your say.

See more