With protests set to continue, one of Britain’s leading retailers has announced it will increase the premium it pays to its farmers for their milk.
The Co-operative Group said it would pay producers a total price of 29p per litre.
Steve Murrells, chief executive of Co-operative Food, said: “We have been in continual discussions on this issue with the National Farmers Union and we have listened to their concerns.
“We are taking this action to help alleviate the immediate pressures that farmers within the Co-operative Dairy Group are facing. Going forward, we are committed to finding a supply model that is sustainable for the long-term future of our dairy farmers.”
Farmers have threatened more direct protests in the campaign against the price they are paid, after using tractors to blockade dairy processing plants in Leeds, Somerset and Leicestershire.
Campaign group Farmers for Action (FFA) warned producers could target other dairy plants after Thursday night’s demonstrations at Arla plants in Leeds and Ashby-de-la-Zouch and a Robert Wiseman Dairy processing plant near Bridgwater.
Dairy farmers are furious about cuts of up to 2p a litre in the amount they receive from major milk processors and many fear it will force them out of business.
The action is the latest in a series of protests by farmers who are angry they are to be paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it.
David Handley, chairman of FFA, said they had meetings yesterday with Robert Wiseman and Arla and plans were being drawn up for further demonstrations.
“You have got to give these people the opportunity to respond,” he said. “We will judge at the end of that whether there is a necessity to go back there again or whether we move on to the next target.
“I think that sort of decision will be made fairly soon.”
The latest cuts will see farmers paid around 25p a litre for milk, but the NFU said the cost of production is 29p a litre, meaning a sale price of 29.5p is the minimum needed to remain viable.
Farming Minister Jim Paice said he would be holding meetings next week with milk producers and supermarkets to draw up a voluntary code for contracts. “They can’t operate a cartel but what they can do is sign up to a voluntary code of practice,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about this. This would not set the price but would set the arrangements for the contract so that farmers and processors knew where they stood.”
Mr Paice criticised the supermarkets, saying they were a “major player” in the market, which sees customers pay around 46p for a pint of milk. There were understood to be around 550 farmers and 120 tractors between the Bridgwater plant and a nearby Morrisons supermarket distribution centre. The FFA said there were about 400 farmers outside the Arla plant in Ashby.
FFA’s Stephen Britten, at the Arla plant in Leeds – usually one of the UK’s busiest with thousands of litres coming in and out of the site – said “we can’t go on any longer”.
Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have stepped into the debate and urged the public to boycott some supermarkets over the price of milk.
In a joint letter to The Times, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall said it was “shocking” that many British dairy farmers were to be paid less for their milk than it costs them to produce it, adding that the industry was becoming “unviable”. They said thousands of family businesses would fail and the landscape would be threatened if the industry breaks down or becomes “super-industrialised”.
Letters: Page 16.