Stephen Jardine: Our dairy farmers deserve a fair deal
IT IS our first food. From the bottle or from the breast, milk is what sustains us at the start of our existence. Perhaps for that reason, it has a special place in our lives.
On cereal, it is how many begin the day. In coffee, it keeps us going at work, and when we sit down to eat, cream and cheese form the basis of many of our favourite foods.
Fresh milk is perhaps our most natural food, brought to us by the hard work of farmers who, in early morning and late afternoon, milk their herds to keep us supplied. For that, you’d think they would get our gratitude.
In fact, dairy farmers now actually face being paid less than the cost of production. In other words, they will be paying us to supply us with milk.
This ludicrous situation is the result of the decision by three leading processors to cut the price they pay to farmers by 2p a litre.
The blame lies with those processors and their relationship with some of the major supermarkets. In 1997, the supermarkets took 2.5p profit for every litre they sold. Ten years later, they had more or less quadrupled this to 9.3p.
That leaves less and less for hard-pressed farmers.
Some major retailers have behaved honourably through this. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose all have agreements in place to ensure farmers get a fair price.
Asda, Morrisons and the Co-op don’t and now face the anger of dairy farmers and calls to boycott stores.
Seeing this situation developing, I did something. Three months ago, I switched to buying direct from a small Fife dairy who deliver direct to the door. It is a great product, and I know the farmers are getting a fair price.
Others are also doing their bit. Graham’s Family Dairy, from Bridge of Allan, is Scotland’s largest independent processor, taking milk from 82 local farmers. The company is committed to making sure they are treated fairly.
“We are a farming family, so we know how much hard work goes into”, chairman Dr Robert Graham told me.
“We pay the highest price in Scotland to our farmers because we want them to do well. Of course we have to stay competitive, but as long as we don’t lose market share, we are determined to keep the price where it is”.
And there is the challenge for the rest of us. Everyone needs to do what they can to survive in the current economic climate, but some processors and retailers are sticking their necks out for Scotland’s dairy farmers. As consumers we owe them our support.
The dairy industry is on its last legs. More than 8,000 farmers have left the industry in the past eight years and more will follow if this price cut goes unchallenged.
This weekend, buy milk from companies that give a fair price to Scottish dairy farmers. For all their hard work, it is the least they deserve.
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