Dairy price cuts ‘could be the last straw’

Peter Kendall
Peter Kendall
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A CRISIS meeting is set to take place next week after the dairy farming industry endured a series of brutal price cuts which many experts warn could cripple the industry.

The Government’s Farming Minister Jim Paice is to hold the showdown with farming leaders after a number of processors slashed the price they pay at the farmgate for milk.

Some estimate the cuts, brought in by Wiseman, Dairy Crest, Arla and First Milk, will wipe more than £50,000 off the average dairy farm income.

More than 500 producers gathered for an emergency meeting at the Staffordshire Showground this week and both the National Farmers Union and the Farmers for Action protest group were keen to emphasise how critical the latest cuts could be to the dairy industry, with the latter organisation threatening to blockade supermarket depots in response to the continual low prices paid to farmers.

Both groups called on all involved to reverse the cuts for the sake of ensuring Britain was able to maintain a supply of domestic milk.

Peter Kendall, NFU president, said: “The time for talk is clearly over and we must take action before the dairy industry is on its knees.

“Dairy farmers are already quitting in record numbers and this new round of cuts, many due to come into force on August 1, is likely to be the final straw for many.”

David Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action, said: “We cannot emphasise enough just how urgent this is – and how this is not just a case of us sitting down to talk.

“The whole industry is looking to us for action so it is vital that we come up with a practical plan of action that can help reverse these steps which are threatening the entire dairy industry.” Processors blamed the cut in the farmgate prices on the decline of the cream market but many in the farming industry blame supermarkets for charging too little for milk and using it as a loss leader.

Labour’s Shadow Food and Farming Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, welcomed news of the summit but urged the Government to take action to help British dairy farmers who are seeing milk prices cut.

“I am glad that Defra are finally listening to the views of dairy farmers and are working with the NFU to get the summit together. But this cannot be just another meeting. The summit is not an excuse for ministers to do nothing. They need to start banging heads together now.”

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Irranca-Davies said: “Will the Government now act urgently on Labour’s and the NFU’s call to allow farmers to exit contracts when price changes are made, do more to bring farmers together in producer organisations, and either bang heads together to strengthen the voluntary code or consider regulation on this dysfunctional supply chain?”

The Government is understood to favour a voluntary code of practice to better protect the supply chain.