The mood among delegates at the Rendezvous Hotel for the Northern Dairy Conference, organised annually by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), was one of frustration.
Around 100 farmers attended the event which came towards the end of a year when farmgate dairy prices have tumbled month after month since February. By October milk prices averaged 29.71 pence per litre, according to the most recent data published by levy board DairyCo.
Gwyn Jones, DairyCo’s new chairman, was one of the high-profile industry speakers at Tuesday’s conference, and he told the audience: “I know dairy farmers, not for the first time, are facing difficulties which are not of their own making. I fully appreciate that the fluctuating dairy markets and milk prices is creating uncertainty and hardship, leading many farmers to look long and hard at their situation.”
Global factors have affected returns for farmers, such as the Russian import embargo brought in response to sanctions from the West over Russia’s role in the political unrest in Ukraine.
But Mr Jones vowed that DairyCo would fight to improve the situation.
Speaking after the conference, he said: “In my term of office I want to do all I can to help the industry to react more quickly to good ideas and encourage the industry to work more collaboratively to cope better with the difficulties we face, such as market volatility.
“Although DairyCo cannot wave the current problems away, we do have some answers to some problems. We know from our research and contact with farmers across Scotland, England and Wales that those levy payers ’engaged’ most closely through events, R&D projects, discussion groups and other initiatives welcome the contribution we make and farmers tell us the information and experiences shared, helps them progress.
“We can compete for markets across the world and we must use everything available to help us achieve our goal.
“We have been actively engaging with the public and this has increased the number of visitors to our thisisdairyfarming.com website. We have a growing amount of people ‘talking’ through Twitter and social media about current dairy issues. Public facing communications are aimed at shoppers and we also have educational programmes targeting young people through teachers that are designed to help everyone understand where milk comes from.
The NFU’s dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said he shared farmers’ frustrations over price cuts and revealed that the number of dairy farmers operating in England and Wales had dropped below 10,000 dairy farmers for the first time this month.
Some possible solutions raised by delegates included supermarkets doing more to promote British dairy products to raise demand from customers and the setting up of a ‘futures market’ whereby a price would be agreed with farmers up front for a proportion of their product over a set period.