Farming: Fight goes on as first steps toward dairy price code agreed

YESTERDAY’S Royal Welsh Show was the scene of political activity the likes of which the old showground will seldom have seen as politicians, farming leaders and milk processors spent hours trying to hammer out a scheme to give under-
pressure dairy farmer a better price for milk.

Although their combined 
efforts did not result in a code of conduct which would produce a fairer division of the cash in the milk supply chain, they did agree on the headline terms of reference for the code and these will provide the agenda for a follow-up meeting next week on the issue.

The politicians also agreed that, should the voluntary code fail, then legislation producing a compulsory code would be necessary.

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The political imperative to get a solution was underlined by days of protests by farmers outside a number of supermarket depots and distribution points.

In Scotland, farmers in Dumfries and Galloway met shoppers at Morrisons, Iceland, Farm Foods and Lidl supermarkets in Dumfries at the weekend and producers from Highlands and the North-east made their presence felt at the opening of a new Asda store in Inverness yesterday.

Speaking from the Royal Welsh Show, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller confirmed that work with retailers and processors to reverse cuts in milk prices would be ramped up in the coming days.

He said: “We seek to ensure that all dairy farmers – whether they are producing for fresh milk or dairy product markets – will receive a price that reflects the true worth of the milk.”

On the protests outside supermarkets, Miller said it was “a clear reflection of the anger and frustration” felt at farm level.

He was pleased with the positive response they were getting from the public: “They want fresh local milk and dairy products in stores and fully accept that those doing the graft in looking after and milking their cows deserve a fair price.

“Dairy farmers are ill-served by existing contractual arrangements with their milk buyers and today’s meeting in Wales saw headline terms of agreement for a code of practice for the sector laid out. These terms, looking at areas like exclusivity, termination and pricing, will now go forward to be negotiated in detail in August with, at our insistence, a facilitator aiding the process.”

Also speaking from the showground at Builth Wells, Scotland’s farming secretary Richard Lochhead welcomed the progress towards the voluntary code of practice.

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“Today’s agreement is a good step forward which addresses some of the most important issues, but our dairy sector is not out of the woods just yet,” he said.

“The test of success for our farmers will be when we see them being paid a decent return – and certainly one that is above the cost of production. There is still much work to do and we will continue with our plans to consult on legislation, the opportunity for which stems from the recent EU dairy package.”

The Scottish Union will hold a producers’ meeting at Lanark Mart next Monday to update them on progress but it will also help establish what further action Scottish dairy farmers want to undertake.