UK dairy farmers are preparing to take action that would disrupt the country’s milk supply if cuts to the farm-gate milk price are not rescinded.
Recent cuts to the milk price by the country’s largest dairy processors – Dairy Crest, Arla Foods and Robert Wiseman – have pushed farmers into a loss making situation, where they are being paid below the cost of production.
Farming organisations have unified around a call for the cuts – totalling 3.65-4ppl – to be reversed by a deadline of 1 August. According to Andrew Hemming, vice chairman of Farmers for Action, if the cuts are not reversed by this date farmers will take action that will result in “severe disruption of the milk supply”.
“Initially, all we are interested in is to get the cuts rescinded. If this doesn’t happen there will be considerable disruption of the milk supply. We don’t want to go down that route, but we will if we have to,” he told just-food this morning (17 July).
The farming community has largely highlighted the role UK’s retailers play in keeping the price for liquid milk low and spontaneous protests organised by local farmers erupted outside retailers across the country over the weekend.
“The likes of Dairy Crest’s liquid milk division and Robert Wiseman have recently issued profit warnings to the City. They aren’t strong enough – or are unable for whatever reason – to get a realistic price from the top of the tree,” Hemming suggested.
According to Hemming, Asda and Morrisons have been singled out by protesters because the premium they pay to suppliers in their milk pool is below the cost of production. However, he emphasised other retailers – including Sainsbury’s and Tesco – are not “guilt free” because milk included in milk-based products (other than liquid milk) is bought at a price that is below the cost of production.
“They can hide behind a smoke screen… but only about one-third of milk they buy they pay the advanced price for,” he insisted.
Reinstating the original milk price is the farming community’s number one priority because dairy farmers will start going out of business otherwise, Hemming said. “My business will probably collapse by next Spring. The country could be looking at a severe milk crisis, with shortages by Christmas,” he warned.
Farmers for Action has 3,000 members who would join a milk blockade in protest and, Higgins said, new applications are coming “thick and fast”.
Other farming organisations have been less quick to through their weight behind action that would disrupt the milk supply and a spokesperson for the National Farmers Union – the largest UK farming body – told just-food the union would support “legal and peaceful protest” but added the group’s plans had not “extended to specific action yet”.