Leaving Scottish dairy farmers exposed to market forces and current global trends would be a disaster for the industry – and put the future of even the most efficient dairy farming businesses in jeopardy.
That was the claim made at a crisis meeting in Edinburgh to address the threats to the Scottish milk sector.
And a call was made for a task force to be set up with key players in the areas of finance, advisory services and the supply chain.
“The reality is that the market will not recover quickly enough for some,” said NFU Scotland milk committee policy manager George Jamieson.
“That means the supply chain must address this challenge collectively and ensure producers are paid a milk price that is as high as possible, rather than as low as some buyers think they can get away with. The volatile market cannot be managed but a fairer margin share can be addressed.”
He said that, in the short term, a focused group should be drawn up to address the severe financial pressures on dairy but added that it should also be tasked with driving innovative thinking for the longer term.
Jamieson added: “We also need Scottish and UK governments, and all in the supply chain, to support initiatives such as the voluntary Code of Practice on milk contracts, the advancement of Dairy Producer Organisations and an effective Grocery Supply Chain Code that has links and relevance to the entire chain.
“These must be seen as an opportunity not a threat. No progressive farmer, processor or retailer should have anything to fear from ‘good practice’.”
Speaking after the meeting, the rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochhead, said he took on board the calls and would discuss such an approach with his officials:
He said: “It is clear we must work together to come up with a short-term plan. We are doing what we can to develop Scottish solutions, but it is clear that action is also needed at UK level.”
He also proposed that increasing sales of Scottish produce would yield dividends for the marketplace, stating that a doubling of the sales of Scottish cheddar would be worth £82 million to the industry.”
• In a piece of good news, the dairy industry managed to side-step the new sugar levy announced in the Budget which will be imposed on soft drinks with the Chancellor excluding pure fruit juices and milk-based drinks.
However, NFU Scotland chief Scott Walker said there was little in the Budget for struggling farm businesses: “With farm production being the foundation of Scotland’s successful food and drink industry it is important that more is done to support the start of our food chain.”