Amid continuing turbulence in the dairy sector where prices paid to farmers for their milk has fallen below the cost of production for many, Elizabeth Truss was at Ilkley Brewery this week to champion the success of the British brewing industry.
A night earlier she was one of a number of MPs who met with farming industry representatives at Westminster, including members of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), to be briefed on the current dairy situation.
Asked whether the Government should intervene to help farmers receive a sustainable price for their milk, Mrs Truss told Country Week that she wanted to work with the industry to make it more competitive, and that reducing cheese imports could play a major role.
“We have put in place a voluntary code which 85 per cent of the supply chain has signed up to and I had a meeting yesterday (Wednesday) with the Dairy UK board which had farmers’ representatives on it as well as from the major dairy companies,” she said, remarking on the industry code of practice introduced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to bring farmers and milk processors closer together following the last milk crisis in 2012.
“What is happening is that as quotas are phased out our milk producers and dairy producers are being exposed to a global market and what I want to do is work with the industry to make sure it is sustainable and competitive in the long term,” she added.
“One of things I’ve been very keen to promote is the idea we need to be selling more of our British cheese here in Britain. At the moment we import two-thirds of our cheese and a lot of the cheese we actually import is cheddar which is a British product.”
While the average farmgate milk price is believed to be around 27 pence per litre, down from nearly 34 pence eight months ago, Mrs Truss said there were reasons to be positive about the industry’s future.
“We are actually seeing a lot of new dairy investments in this country. For example Muller has invested in a new plant, we are seeing more butter produced here.
“I am in discussions with the industry about what more can we do to support those businesses and what can we do to help farmers manage the volatility. There is price volatility, that’s the reality of a global market but I want to see the industry go from strength to strength.”
Rob Harrison, the NFU’s dairy board chairman, issued a rallying call of his own earlier this week aimed at processors, retailers, and policy makers both in the UK and the EU to work together to safeguard the future of British dairy farming.
He said: “We are pleased to hear that Defra will be continuing to support British dairy products, specifically cheese, in what is a very competitive market.
“We hope the Government will do all they can to work with the dairy industry, to back British farming during what is an incredibly difficult time.”