UK: Dairy farmers in milk crisis talks as price stalemate continues

Dairy farmers are due to have crunch talks with milk processors today as the stalemate over milk price cuts continues.

The two sides are set to meet at the Royal Welsh show in Powys after British farming ministers agreed to push them to back a new code of practice.

Last night more than 2,000 farmers took part in a third round of protests over the milk pricing crisis blockading plants near Bridgwater, Somerset, Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire and Market Drayton in Shropshire.

James Badman, from the protest group Farmers for Action (FFA), said they were given little choice but to blockade.

He said: “We will continue until we get a fair price for what we produce. This is a last resort.”

Westminster’s Jim Paice and his Welsh and Scottish ministerial counterparts Alun Davies and Richard Lochhead are united in pressing for both sides to back a new code on milk contracts, according the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That would be subject to a review after 12 months to ensure it worked in practice.

Mr Paice will also hold a meeting with the big supermarkets later in the week to get them to sign up to a voluntary code.

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It is understood the ministers believe all sides must “get round the table” to avert further blockades and demonstrations.

In a joint statement the ministers said: “The dairy sector is a key part of our agricultural industry and all the Governments in the UK are determined that it should have a profitable and sustainable future.

“In responding to the current situation, industry needs to address both the immediate issue of the price paid for milk and also the structures and mechanisms that will help underpin the long term viability of the sector.”

In recent days farmers have staged the latest in a wave of demonstrations to show their anger over being 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.

The 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 on Friday to demonstrate outside the Robert Wiseman dairy in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, and another plant at Foston, Derbyshire.

Meanwhile, from August 1 Asda is increasing the premium it pays to its dairy farmers by 2p per litre.

The increase means the supermarket giant’s 272 Dairylink farmers will continue to be paid 27.5p per litre for the milk they produce - offsetting a cut previously announced by milk processing company Arla.

The additional premium is, on average, equivalent to around �30,000 a year for a Dairylink farmer and means the price they are paid will not reduce on August 1 as previously feared.

The move to support farmers will not result in a price increase on the shelves, Asda said.

Karl Martin, commercial director for dairy, said: “We have listened to the concerns of our dedicated dairy farmers and recognise the financial pressures they are under.

“As a result, from August 1 we will increase the premium we pay from 1p per litre to 3p per litre.

“We pride ourselves on listening and acting positively whenever necessary in order to ensure we operate within a sustainable supply chain.”

Scotland’s Farming Minister Richard Lochhead yesterday said: “At tonight’s meeting there was recognition from all three ministers that there is an imbalance in the supply chain.

“It was clear that the preference of all three ministers is for a robust code of practice which will deliver transparency in milk pricing and a fair price for our milk producers. But there was also acceptance that legislation remained an option if necessary.

“The success of the code will of course be whether we find ourselves back in same position in next few months and it is important the code delivers a long-term solution to this unfair and emotive issue - not a quick-fix.

“The UK Government also agreed to explore a possible role for the new Groceries Code Adjudicator in this issue.”