Government plans dairy crisis talks after farmers vow to continue blockades


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The Independent Online

The Government is to have talks with dairy farmers following two nights of protests over the prices paid to milk suppliers

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and Farming Minister Jim Paice are to meet farmers, milk processors and supermarkets next week, a spokesman for Defra confirmed.

The ministers will hold talks at the Royal Welsh Show, in Powys, on Monday to try to resolve the crisis in the dairy industry.

Dairy farmers are furious about cuts of up to 2p a litre in the amount they receive from major milk processors and many fear the shortfall will force them out of business.

The two nights of demonstrations are the latest in a series of protests by farmers who are angry that they are to be paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it.

The Co-operative and Morrisons supermarket chains have responded to the protests by announcing rises in premiums paid for milk to farmers.

Mr Paice said yesterday that he would be holding a meeting next week with representatives of the big supermarkets to try to get agreement to introduce a voluntary code for contracts.

The protest group Farmers For Action (FFA) is warning that cuts in the price paid to suppliers by dairy processors, combined with rising feed costs, could force hundreds of dairy farmers out of business.

They have vowed to continue protests outside milk processing plants until they receive a better deal.

The FFA said about 750 of its members turned out last night to demonstrate outside the Robert Wiseman dairy in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, and another plant at Foston, Derbyshire.

Vice chairman Andrew Hemming, who farms near Hockley Heath, West Midlands, said: "It's hard work - it's annoying that we have to go to these lengths to make common sense prevail.

"We had a fantastic turn-out at Foston - towards the end there were nearly 500 farmers up there and they blockaded until 3am."

FFA, which is not planning to stage any further protests until Sunday, is also lobbying outside supermarkets to get its message across to consumers.

Thanking consumers for backing the FFA campaign through Facebook and Twitter, Mr Hemming said it had proved an effective way for the public to pressure retailers and processors into acting fairly.

The tenant farmer, who has a herd of 200 dairy cows, added: "We have got a fantastic momentum going, with the consumer being aware and very supportive.

"It (the protest) is working and I have never seen support like it in all the years I have been involved with Farmers For Action.

"There is anger and desperation but everyone is pulling together - we won't be giving in, I can assure you of that."

Today, Morrisons said it was increasing by 5p per litre the amount it pays in its farmgate milk price, which will be reviewed after three months.

The announcement comes 24 hours after the Co-op also increased the premium it pays to farmers.

Morrisons commercial director Richard Hodgson said: "We recognise the exceptional pressure on farmers currently and continue to aim to support all farmers not just those that have dedicated contracts.

"The recent announcements by our processors will reduce the payment to farmers for the milk we sell and therefore we are announcing payments that negate their impact."

Morrisons said the latest increase would take the premium it paid to farmers to 6p per litre because it already paid a 1p premium for milk.

The latest increase would be spread across all non-aligned farmers in its processors' pools from August 1.

The retailer said it was also looking at a "longer-term solution" to volatile milk prices and would now "accelerate this programme".

Farm leaders welcomed the announcement.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: "We're really pleased to see Morrisons' response to the calls from a coalition of farming groups to reverse the announced price reductions and address the exceptional costs dairy farmers are now facing.

"We need a long-term solution that addresses the need for a sustainable raw milk supply into the future.

"It's now critical that other retailers and major buyers of milk respond to the responsible steps Morrisons is taking."

West Mercia Police estimated that the four-hour demonstration in Worcestershire involved about 200 protesters.

Inspector Paul Crumpton said: "Between 8pm and midnight an orderly protest took place at Wiseman's in Droitwich, where approximately 40 vehicles and 200 people gathered from the dairy farming community.

"Police were in attendance in small numbers and the crowds dispersed of their own volition at midnight"