UK milk group federation here late this year
By Jeremy Hunt
and Robert Davies
A NATIONAL federation of milk producer groups, run by a regionally selected committee under an independent chairmanship, will be operating by late November.
The move marks a big step in establishing fewer, stronger farmer-controlled selling organisations.
Although the NFU and the RABDF have been reluctant to release details of the new federation, milk producers who attended a recent meeting at Kenilworth wanted to maintain momentum.
"Farmers need to be kept fully informed and give their backing to the new federation. Dairies may well offer a small rise in the price they pay for their milk as a short-term sweetener. The dairies want to keep us fragmented and that is something we must resist," said Cheshire dairy farmer Keith Holland.
A Cheshire working party had been set up comprising representatives of 18 milk groups operating in the county, he added. Like other working parties it would meet to select representation to its regional group. The framework of regional groups was expected to be in place by Oct 31.
"This is an opportunity that we must not miss. It is the chance for us to join forces and act together in strength," said Mr Holland.
Terrig Morgan, vice-chairman of the NFUs milk and dairy produce committee, was less optimistic, saying that plans for the new federation faced opposition from individuals who were not prepared to give up positions of power.
He was talking at the Plunkett Foundations milk groups conference at Meriden, in Warwickshire, this week, where several speakers warned that time was running out for smaller milk groups.
They could choose between becoming increasingly irrelevant bystanders or being an influential force in the milk market, said Richard Ashworth, chairman of United Milk Producers.
The weak risked being picked off by the industrys strong companies. But a combination of pride, a perception of success based on the easy years after deregulation, and lack of market-place awareness deterred amalgamations.
Small groups had a false sense of security, and often lacked leadership and vision. They responded to rather than determined events.
Groups needed to be strong enough to invest in processing, staff and advantageous partnerships, said Mr Ashworth.
Consultant Paul Pegden- Smith said he believed smaller groups would succeed only if they commanded a milk pool of at least 250m litres, a defendable niche market.
Directors of Torridge Vale Ltd, Devon, told the conference that their 50 members had invested their own and EU Objective 5b money in processing to boost producer prices.
"I know 50 farmers who are optimistic about the future," said Mark Pearse. "Do you know any?" *