Blog: Dairy farmers single out retailers at Yorkshire show
Michelle Russell | 11 July 2012
Ahead of today's (11 July) crisis meeting in London to discuss farmgate milk prices, the Great Yorkshire Show witnessed its own protest yesterday as dairy farmers attempted to make their voices heard at one of the UK's largest agricultural shows.
The torrential rain and mud-swamped fields failed to deter visitors to the annual show, which saw visitors and exhibitors from the agricultural, retail and manufacturing fields of the industry gather for their annual meet.
It was the retailers, however, who became the target of fury from dairy farmers over cuts to milk prices on the first day of the show.
The cuts have caused widespread anger amongst dairy farmers who are facing a reduction in the price paid for their milk from some of the country's largest dairy processors.
In the last week, Robert Wiseman Dairies, Arla Foods UK, Dairy Crest and First Milk have all announced cuts, citing lower selling prices for commodities such as bulk cream.
The Yorkshire agricultural show appeared to be the perfect opportunity for local farming families to make their point as placards were placed outside the stand of UK retailer Asda and on a road heading in to the show. Morrisons was also highlighted in the protest.
The two retailers were singled out because although they pay a premium to their farmers for their milk, their farmers' price is linked to the price the processor pays.
Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer were not targeted as they operate payment models linked instead to on-farm costs of production.
Steve McClean, head of agriculture & fisheries for M&S told just-food at the show yesterday that it currently pays one of the highest prices for milk on the high street due to its Milk Pledge model.
"At M&S we're in a very privileged position. Over 12 years ago we established our own dedicated milk supply chain and we have four regional pools of farmers that supply liquid milk into the M&S business. We're very proud to be in a position where we're currently paying 32.46ppl, which is the highest price paid in the high street today.
Asked whether he thought supply needed to be taken out of the market, he added: "If you look at the supply chain, we've got to a place where it works for us, it works for our producers and it works for the processor who has to take the milk off farm, turn it into the products that we want to be able to use across the business, so it would be too simplistic for me to give a gut feel for what needs to happen. It's a very complex issue and clearly the different commodity prices around milk impact fairly dramatically on what processors can and can't pay, we're outside of that because of our milk system."
Morrisons declined to comment directly on the protests when approached at the show yesterday, but Richard Taylor, director of corporate affairs for the retailer told the BBC this morning that his company had to give its customers the best value it could, but it was working with dairy farmers to get them a good deal.
“Morrisons hasn't been leading putting prices down, but we are operating in a competitive marketplace and customers expect us to offer great value so we sell two pints of milk for 89 pence so you could argue, why don't we just charge GBP1 for that, but in these price-sensitive times, for some people that would be too much money.”
Asked why Morrisons doesn't take the cut rather than the suppliers, he added: “We work with processors and the farming industry as a whole and we pay a penny premium to as many farmers as we can in what is called a non-aligned pool and we think that's the best way.”
Taylor evaded the question on whether Morrisons takes a hit when it cuts milk prices.
Dairy farmers from across the UK will be making their way to London today for a meeting at the city's Westminster Central Hall. The two-hour meeting is expected to highlight the despair felt at the recent price cuts, which have resulted in an outcry from dairy farmers, with the NFU calling the situation "catastrophic".
Farming minister Jim Paice, who yesterday admitted to the BBC he did not know how much a pint of milk cost, is expect to address the meeting later.
This follows his attendance at the Yorkshire show yesterday to launch the Government's Green Food Project that seeks to address the issue of how to make the country's food sector more sustainable amid "soaring" population growth.
He insisted the report is "not the end of the affair" and that it merely provides a "framework" for further action.
Dairy farmers may well be hoping the Minister carries these thoughts through to today's dairy meeting.
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