‘If we don’t fight we will lose UK dairy industry’

David Handley and FFA have been involved in many protests. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
David Handley and FFA have been involved in many protests. Picture: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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On A day when many dairy farmers awoke to a gaping hole in their bank accounts, there was no getting away from the parlous economic position in which milk producers find themselves during a major dairying conference yesterday.

And the plight of the industry – which has seen prices fall by a third over the past year – was highlighted in the announcement from one of the day’s main speakers that without a sharp and significant turnaround in the fortunes of the milk industry, he would have to sell up.

Speaking at yesterday’s Semex conference in Glasgow, David Handley, chairman of Farmers for Action (FFA) – which has been instrumental in organising many protests and demonstrations outside milk processing plants – said that if there was no change to the economic circumstances by April, his 120-cow herd and milking parlour equipment would be up for sale.

“Having worked for many years in the past for little or no return to build up the herd, hard economics are now forcing me to face the fact that without a substantial improvement in the price of milk I’ll need to come up with an exit strategy.”

Handley, who farms 280 tenanted acres, said that he might even face the prospect of having to quit farming. But he said that for the many dairy producers – and other farmers – in the same position, sitting back and waiting for someone else to sort out the problems of the industry just wasn’t an option.

“We must be positive going forward – but don’t for a minute believe we’re in a scenario where we can sit and wait. If we don’t stand up and fight for the industry, we will lose it.”

Calling on farmers to join together, he said it was crucial the industry got the message of just how much of their body and soul farmers put into producing their goods. He said: “There is support out there for the home-produced article, but if we can put the message over loud and clear it can be so much stronger.”

He said a transfer of funds from the statutory levy board, DairyCo to the Dairy Council – which speaks directly to consumers – would reap rewards.

He said: “If even only £1 million of the £7m levy raised annually was put to this use, the Dairy Council could go to Europe to get match funding, and having an extra £2m to get the message over could be enough to tip the balance.”