Farmers threaten to pour milk down the drain

Producers object to sharp cuts in price they get

Matt Chorley
Saturday 07 July 2012 22:16

Thousands of litres of milk could be poured down the drain this summer in protest at deep cuts to the price paid to farmers. More than 1,000 farmers are expected to attend a meeting in central London this week to agree a battle plan after the amount paid by some processors fell to 6p a litre less than it costs to produce.

Farmers were hit with a 2p cut in June, with just four days' notice while still being tied into a contract for a year. Another cut of up to 2p is being made in August.

With floods hitting large parts of the country, farmers are being forced to keep cattle in barns, eating feed which would normally have been saved for the winter, driving up costs.

David Handley, the chairman of the Farmers for Action campaign group, said farmers were so desperate they were prepared to destroy supplies.

"If by August 1 we have not got anywhere, disruption of the milk supply chain will take place. In the last resort, dairy farmers will be willing to let their milk go down the drain until something changes. That's a very sad thing to have to do, but I think we have got public support."

Mr Handley warned supplies to the Olympic Games and related events could be disrupted, adding: "The opening ceremony is promoting the countryside. Yet the Government isn't listening to us, just using us as a marketing opportunity."

The three big milk processors, who supply the catering and food production industries as well as supermarkets and convenience stores, have all cut the prices they pay farmers. Robert Wiseman Dairies blamed "the substantially lower returns from the markets" for its decision to cut its price by 1.7p to 24.73p.

A spokesman for Arla Foods, which is cutting its price by 2p to 24.5p, defended the move. A spokesman said: "We fully understand that emotions are high and doing all we can to get better prices." Dairy Crest is cutting its price by 1.65p to 24.92p.

The average farm produces one million litres of milk a year. The price paid to farmers varies. Sainsbury's and Tesco guarantee to meet the cost of production, and pay around 30p. But others only promise a small premium on the producers' base price, which means Morrisons pays 25.92p, Co-op pays 25.73p and Asda pays 25.5p. Farmers without supermarket deals will be hardest hit.

Britain is a nation of fresh milk lovers, but a trend to semi-skimmed has caused a headache for processors who have to remove the cream. A quarter of it finds its way on to supermarket shelves in pots, but the rest is sold on the commodity markets and exported where the price is dictated by global demand.

Whole milk now accounts for just a fifth of fresh milk sales.

Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "A lot of farmers feel very uneasy about throwing milk away, but I can see some holding back supplies. We need to see these price cuts reversed. Dairy is the biggest agricultural sector. It is the backbone of rural communities. We are going to see irreparable damage done."

Jim Paice, the farming minister, has insisted the Government cannot interfere in the market, but he will attend Wednesday's meeting.

He said the price cuts were "a heavy blow" for the industry and has promised to "bang heads together" to strengthen the industry's voluntary code of conduct.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in