Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A fair deal for dairy farmers

My article in today’s Cornish Nation considers recent debates around dairy farmers, the supermarkets and the price of milk. It is as follows:

Last week, the crisis surrounding the dairy industry was considered by a key committee of Westminster politicians.

The MPs wanted more to be done to protect farmers and combat the falling price being paid to them for their milk. The Government said it welcomed such calls, but claimed it was doing what it could to help farmers cope with the "volatility of the global market," blaming such things as “lower-than-expected demand from China and Russia's ban on food imports.”

But the reality is that the supermarkets have not been paying dairy farmers a fair price for a significant period of time, although recently the situation has got even worse.

With a range of supermarkets now selling four pints of milk for an unsustainable 89p, it is clear that many dairy farmers are being paid less than it costs to produce the milk in the first place which is self-defeating and uneconomic madness.

It is little wonder that the National Farmers; Union has reported that the “number of dairy farmers has dipped below 10,000 for the first time – a 50% fall since 2001.” Its spokesman has warned of a further "mass exodus" from the industry, stating that many farmers were "staring at the precipice now".

One supermarket has even taken out adverts to argue that it was paying farmers a fair price for milk. It stated that the farmers “who produce our milk should also make a living.”

The company claimed that the cost of producing four pints was 68p (equivalent to 30p a litre), and confirmed that it paid out 72p (equivalent to 31.7p a litre). And, with no sense of irony whatsoever, they lauded the fact that a farmer, on their figures, might be making a penny on a pint.

The advert was principally an excuse to slate competitors who, they claimed, were paying even less. Five supermarkets were listed, who – the advert claimed – paid between 56p and 59p for four pints, significantly below production costs.

But dairy farmers and other primary producers need much more than supportive words from the Government. They need Cameron and his Ministers to regulate the big supermarkets and stop them forcing down farm prices to uneconomic levels, thereby safeguarding an economically viable farming sector, which is fundamental to the security of food supply and the character of the Cornish countryside and way of life.

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