A 10-point strategy to save the dairy industry and ensure a fair price is paid to farmers for their milk has been welcomed by the producers' Westcountry leader.
The new plan to address the crisis facing British dairy farmers was agreed at a meeting of the Dairy Coalition in Warwickshire yesterday, aimed at helping secure the long-term future of Britain's 12,000 dairy farmers.
"This is a very positive outcome and something vital that has been long overdue," said Cornish dairy farmer Mark Oliver, deputy chairman of the South West Regional Dairy Board. "Perhaps the most important aspect is that so many different organisations have come together to produce this plan."
Mr Oliver, who milks 500 cows at Lanhydrock, near Bodmin, added: "This is taking us in the right direction after a very long struggle. It shows the industry was not content with any short-term fixes about not having our milk payments cut by the processors and retailers.
"It shows to everyone we are serious about finding a solution for all dairy farmers, and not just those on special contracts with the big processors and retailers.
"But most of all it demonstrates that we can all pull together and present a united front when we are really determined."
The plan to build a fair and functioning marketplace was agreed by all members of the coalition, comprises the National Farmers' Union (NFU), the farming unions of Scotland and Wales, the protest group Farmers For Action, the Tenant Farmers' Association, the Women's Food and Farming Union and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. It will focus on three key areas – exposing bad practices, redefining and empowering the farmers' role in the supply chain, and ensuring the supply chain is transparent and fair.
The Dairy Coalition, and its SOS Dairy campaign, was formed after three major dairies threatened to slash payments to farmers from the beginning of this month – meaning that many, already faced with rising costs, would be losing money with every drop of milk produced.
Widespread mass protests at supermarkets and dairies across the country – including the large Wiseman's factory near Bridgwater – resulted in a climbdown by the processors, though the payment cuts of last spring still stand.
NFU dairy chairman Mansel Raymond, who hosted yesterday's meeting, said: "We firmly believe that all farmers should receive a fair and sustainable milk price, one which at least covers their costs to produce milk. This is the only way we shall be able to ensure shoppers have the choice of British dairy products on supermarket shelves.
"What is very clear is that the dairy market has failed. Market highs have not been passed down to the farm gate. We need to see all milk buyers developing their own appropriate and transparent milk-procurement and pricing models that are equitable for all parties and cover farmers' production costs.
"I firmly believe that the British dairy industry can have a very bright future. We need to have every part of the dairy market working to capture present and future market opportunities both here and abroad.
"We have a growing demand for fresh, British, quality dairy products from a growing world population and we must be in a place where we can respond."
The SOS Dairy campaign specifically spotlighted the milk-for-cheese sector, with the Dairy Coalition committing to campaigning to promote UK-produced cheese and in particular calling for own-label supermarket cheese to be British produced.
There are currently 2,700 dairy farmers in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset.
The dairy coalition’s 10-point plan
1. Expose those whose damaging behaviour undermines the liquid milk market.
2. Work with milk-buyer farmer representatives to ensure that representation is professional, independent and democratic, so that farmers’ interests are protected.
3. Set out a roadmap to capture the maximum opportunity for producer organisations to re-balance the negotiating power within the milk supply chain and assist farmers wanting to set up producer organisations or other collaborative organisations within the dairy sector.
4. Work to finalise the code of good practice for dairy contracts.
5. Develop a process to monitor and report on the implementation of the Code of Good Practice for Dairy Contracts, to ensure its earliest and complete adoption.
6. Encourage all milk buyers to develop their own appropriate and transparent milk-procurement and pricing models that are equitable for all parties and cover farmers’ production costs.
7. Expose bad practice or non-compliance with the Code of Good Practice and irresponsible behaviour in the milk market by developing a whistle-blower mechanism for farmers.
8. Campaign to promote British cheese and other dairy products to consumers and to retailers, both in the domestic market and abroad.
9. Work with DairyCo (the Government agency funded by a levy on dairy producers) so farmers can utilise relevant market information published by DairyCo, such as up-to-date global trends, league tables and dairy market predictions.
10. Prepare a strategy for the UK dairy industry’s future without EU milk quotas, which takes full advantage of growing domestic and global demand for dairy products.