Farmers fighting on after collapse blow

DAIRY farmers affected by the collapse of a major milk co-operative one year ago are "soldiering on" despite the widespread disruption it caused.

Dairy Farmers of Britain went into receivership this time last year, leaving thousands of farmers across Britain with no market for their milk and leading many to quit the industry for good.

The co-operative at the time was responsible for 10 per cent of the country's milk production - some 1 billion litres - and employed a total of 2,200 people.

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Its failure left hundreds of farmers in Yorkshire with no milk cheque for the month of May - resulting in losses of thousands of pounds for many farmers already struggling with low prices.

Receivers PriceWaterhouseCoopers offered many of those affected short-term contracts and others were able to find new buyers.

However many of the more marginal and small scale farmers have endured a torrid 12 months, with many still feeling the effects one year on.

Among those caught up in the drama was former DfB member Martin Burtt, the NFU's northern dairy board chairman and a dairy farmer at Glaisdale, near Whitby.

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Mr Burtt was involved in negotiations to help those effected by the collapse and said that the co-operative's failure affected different people in different ways - with much resilience shown by all involved.

"They have coped," he said. "Each individual has done it in his own way.

"Some of the bit more established farmers could ride it out while others had to make emergency provisions such as going to the bank to get a loan just to tide them over."

Some milk processors offered "help" in the form of rock-bottom prices for the spare milk - giving the producers a choice between unfair payment and no payment.

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Mr Burtt said: "I think it is right to say that it brought out the best and the worst in people.

"Some people took advantage of the situation and were offering an absolute pittance to farmers, just so that they could keep going. Others offered similar prices to that which they had been receiving and in some cases they were offered a better price."

Among the saviours was Longley Farm near Holmfirth which took on many of those affected and gave them a home for their milk.

David Shaw, a dairy farmer at Elvington near York, said the collapse had left its mark on the Yorkshire farming industry in the shape of the number of farmers who simply called it a day.

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"We have lost a number of producers and some the producers we have left are now on much poorer contracts compared with what they would have had if this had not happened.

"There were a lot of good people who were just not big enough for certain companies. If you were out on a limb or on your own you were being offered contracts of around 11p a litre - not really a viable proposition. A lot of these farmers are still only on 18p to 19p a litre."

Since the collapse, shifts in commodity markets and tightening supplies have seen processors enjoying improved returns but Mr Shaw said the money was not being passed on to the majority of farmers:

"I cannot understand why this has not been passed down the line", he said. "Obviously there are increased costs from transport and fuel but there has got to be a better return for the farmer or there is going to be a catastrophe in terms of producers leaving."

CW 5/6/10