Two months ago, dairy farmers blockaded a Morrisons depot in Somerset with their tractors to protest about the price of milk – they were making a loss with every pint. “We’re not asking for extra payments,” said James Hole, from nearby Wedmore. “We’re asking for a fair price.” It was the latest outbreak of acrimony between our producers and big supermarkets.
British farmers have been asking for years for a supermarket ombudsman to control the worst behaviour, including retaliation against those who dare to complain. (Tesco, under new management, has admitted that it went too far and must now strike fairer relationships with its suppliers.)
Five years after farmers were backed by the Competition Commission, they instead receive a Groceries Code watchdog, which has limited powers to fine the big 10 food stores. The new adjudicator, Christine Tacon, says she will be “adopting a softly, softly approach in the first instance” – which will go down badly in farmyards.
Today Prince Charles turns his fire on supermarkets for squeezing maximum profit out of hill farmers earning as little as £8,000 a year (page 4). The heir to the throne’s interventions in public life are not always welcome - his promotion of the powers of magic water (“homeopathy”) comes to mind. And every time he pokes his head above the parapet he opens his office to criticism, reminding detractors of the continuing opacity of his financial affairs and his meddling in policy.
But his intervention on behalf of British farmers is welcome. Thousands have already been driven out of business, and without much fairer deals, we’ll see ever fewer of those Union Flag stickers in the shops.