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WMN opinion: Dairymen deserve better than having to protest

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 07, 2013

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It was only just over a year ago that the Government's then farming minister Jim Paice admitted that he didn't know the price of the pint of milk.

It's a fair assumption that many people would sympathise with him. And there lies the root of the dairy farmers' problem.

Milk is a staple, just about everybody buys it, and many of them are blind to the price. Many supermarkets know that and keep milk prices low to keep it like that.

It helps maintain a competitive edge with customers.

For the Westcountry's hundreds of dairy farmers though, the economics are simply not stacking up.

Hundreds have thrown in the towel and sold up.

Many others struggle manfully on, often selling milk at a loss, or if they are lucky, at a break-even price. Diversification and farm tourism businesses help them keep their head above water – but their core business – producing the finest milk in the world to some of the very highest welfare standards – remains a struggle.

Their frustration is understandable and an oft heard complaint is that they feel their efforts are undervalued, and that they now operate within a market that does not work, and is, quite simply, unfair.

Once again farmers' frustration has spilled over into direct action.

In a repeat of last year's blockades a number of farmers used tractors to block lorries entering and leaving the enormous Morrisons supermarket distribution centre near Bridgwater on Thursday night.

Led by campaign group Farmers for Action, the protesters said higher returns – and the price of milk is higher than for some time – had been wiped out by increased production costs.

It's a familiar and depressing tale.

All of Britain's farmers deserve better than this.

They need understanding not just from supermarkets, but from all of us.

Society has to realise the unfairness of the market they work in.

That farmers – not a militant breed – are forced again to protest in the bid to be heard is wrong. Our farmers are the beating heart of the rural economy and deserve more than just a fair price.

They deserve all of our support, and we should be prepared to pay a fair price in order to support them.

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Britain's first National Grid electricity pylon was erected in 1928, and 26,000 more were erected in the next five years. Astonishingly, the project was delivered on budget and before time.

Despite that, the march of the pylons across the British countryside attracted fierce criticism – including much from the celebrated writers Kipling and Keynes. Does anyone notice them anymore?

The Royal Institute of British Architects reckons in 25 years' time wind turbines – today's subject of vehement objection and debate – will have reached a similar level of incognito in our rural communities.

Only time will tell.

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