Yorkshire dairy farmers have joined the increasing calls for milk buyers to play fair when it comes to announcing farmgate price rises this autumn.
NFU regional dairy board chairman David Shaw said the headline rises seen in recent weeks are not all they appear and have significant strings attached.
He was joined by the union’s national dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond, who called for meaningful net price rises to avoid disappointment across the sector.
He said that while recent price moves from dairy processing companies and co-operatives were recognition of the increasing value of dairy products and commodities, production costs were still at all-time highs.
“Our industry is at a crossroads,” Mr Raymond said.
“The European Commission, European Parliament, Defra Minister Jim Paice and an Efra Select Committee all say contracts need to change.
“We need to give farmers the confidence to invest in the future and, in order for this to happen, meaningful price rises need to come through this autumn.
“I fear that for many producers the net increase will be a disappointment.
“So, while I commend all buyers who have offered unconditional and transparent increases to their base price, my message to processors is farmers deserve balanced contracts and now is the time to offer them.
“If I sign any other contract with tie-in periods I expect the key terms in that contract to last at least as long as my notice period. That gives equal protection to buyer and seller. As things stand, farmers have no means of protest and cannot go to other buyers when their own makes adverse changes to key contractual terms and conditions. This practice is known as ‘buyers’ discretion’, I call it unfair.”
Mr Shaw echoed these views, saying in a statement: “We have been contacted by a number of members across the region who are being offered a higher milk price – but only in return for achieving higher quality standards.
“In some instances, the increases are being linked to quality improvements impossible to achieve for at least three months.
“Most farmers we speak to have no problem with working to achieve higher standards, but yet again they are being subject to contract changes without any consultation or prior notice.
“The increased price they so desperately need is dependent on them accepting the changes and they have no right to redress nor can they renege on the contract.”
Dairy producers across the North East have spent much of the summer campaigning for better contracts across the board.
Having taken a farmer delegation to Westminster in June, follow-up on-farm meetings have now been held with several MPs and more are planned.
“It is simply unacceptable for key conditions such as a farmer’s pricing schedule to be changed, without due consultation and agreement, or without releasing them from the notice period of the contract.
“The news of price rises is of course welcome and I congratulate all buyers who have offered increases to their base price.
“But to those processors that haven’t, my message is clear – farmers deserve balanced and fair contracts.”