The true price of your latte

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On Monday night hundreds of dairy farmers demonstrated their hard working, determined attitudes when they met at the Muller Wiseman depo in Shropshire in protest of yet another drop in milk prices.

With well over 500 attending and surviving 24 hour stints before going back home for milking the determination of these dairy farmers to have their voices heard was uplifting.

Prior to the peaceful protest Muller warned farmers to “stop and think” about their blockade saying this would inflict further damage to an industry that is already under severe pressure. One farmer responded by calling the multinational company a disgrace.

Since springtime this year the cost of milk has fallen by 20-30% despite the ever-increasing cost of production and feed prices. This slump has been blamed on the Russian trade ban, along with an oversupply of milk and a reduced global demand. However, Farmers For Action say more than 85% of milk that UK produces is consumed here so such heavy price cuts are not justified.

Dairy farmers yesterday spoke out about how they felt “fobbed off” after being told this is a global crisis but were in contact with farmers throughout Europe who are still receiving at least 35 pence per litre.

Social media sights were inundated with support from consumers who were asking how they could support dairy farmers and buy milk for a fair price.

However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and former environment secretary who are not supporting the protests said this kind of action is foolish and achieves nothing but deter investors.

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NFU President Meurig Raymond said the current times were ‘extremely worrying’ for farmers and called on all areas of the supply chain to ensure the pain being felt was minimal and short-term. He said – “As a dairy farmer myself I know what farmers up and down the country are going through. These are extremely turbulent times. That is why it is absolutely vital that everyone in the dairy supply chain shows commitment at this time. Milk processors, retailers and dairy farmers must work together to minimise the impact of the current price falls on dairy farmers and look to the future by opening up new markets for milk and creating new products.”

With milk prices being cut between 1 and 3 pence such a cut has yet again left many a dairy farming uttering “how will I survive this time?”

Farmers are under a huge amount of pressure to produce more for less and even a small reduction in price can mean that the dairy loses thousands of pounds a month.

Despite production costs skyrocketing in recent years, dairy farmers have continually struggled to receive above the price of production for their milk and supermarket offers including the 4 pints for £1 offer have left retailers raking in money at the expense of the producer. The UK’s animal welfare standards, some of the highest in the world, also adds to higher costs.

Dairy farming has reached crisis point and generations worth of dairy farming has been lost due to unsustainable futures in the industry. One dairy farmer, Richard Briggs, admits he should have given up dairying years ago but it was in his veins. He heartbreakingly continued- “there is no future in dairy for young farmers, working all hours under the sun to lose thousands of pounds every month.”

In the last year just under 400 dairies shutdown in England alone and the recent drop in milk prices will no doubt mean many more are forced to do so.

However, the British Retail Consortium defended retailers claiming that 11 out of the 12 best-paying milk contracts are paid by supermarkets. Consumers recently highlighted that supermarkets are often guilty of failing to offer a range of products such as British lamb during peak season and a more expensive milk product that can be bought for a higher price and benefit the farmer rather than the supermarket.

Studies have shown that milk is considered as a necessity and most consumers will buy it despite an increase in price. In fact, when asked a significant number of consumers were unsure of what price they were even buying their milk for concluding that the price of milk in supermarkets does not impact on peoples buying habits.

Some consumers argued that they simply could not afford to pay more for their milk. The fact of the matter is people are not acting responsibly for their food and they believe that they should pay the lowest price possible without thinking about the impact it will have on the environment, the agricultural economy and on producers livelihoods. Similarly to buying cheap clothes made in a sweatshop there is no excuse for it.

Such comments as those on Monday’s BBC Radio 2 The Jeremy Vine Show exhibit the lack of knowledge surrounding the industry when he held a debate on the drop in milk prices and called upon former chief advisor to Avon makeup (yes, you read that right) Jeremy Baker to take part. Listeners painfully heard Mr Baker claim the crisis is the farmers own fault and question whether the National Farmers Union even still exists. This car crash debate, which also hosted Farmers For Action chairman David Handley, heard listeners call dairy farmers ‘too old or too lazy.’

This can only highlight just how vital a role it is for farmers, farming organisations and the government to educate them about the food supply chain. Although protests might not be the way to build relationships with processors and retailers, it certainly attracts the attention of the media which in-hand gives the public an idea of the situation.

The NFU are campaigning for supermarkets to support British dairy farmers by covering the cost of production and if supermarkets choose to offer such discounts to customers it should come out of their own pockets and not producers.

NFU President Meurig Raymond released a statement saying- “We urge the public to also back British farming by buying British milk and dairy products that carry the Red Tractor logo. British dairy farmers know and appreciate that ongoing consumer support, so to them I say, thank you.”

Farmers For Action, who feel that the NFU are not being active enough in supporting struggling dairy farmers, launched the protests as a last bid attempt to have their voices heard.

As an industry, we are stronger together and in general farmers have a very positive and supportive community so it is a shame to see such dissimilarity between groups.

The next milk price protest will take place tonight (Wednesday 8 October 2014) at Sedgemoor Market in Somerset. FFA have asked all those taking tractors and equipment please phone James 07971254652 beforehand for relevant info.

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This article was published by South East Farmer and can be read on their website at: http://www.southeastfarmer.net/section/alice-blog/farmy-army-fights-back

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