Andrew Arbuckle: Some sunshine after the rain is not too much to ask, is it?

In MY little boy butterfly mind, the best bit of going to Sunday school each week was watching the multi-coloured sunbeams streaming through the stained glass windows.

There have been very few sunbeams of any description this year, but more on that later.

It has only been the passage of time that has caused me to reflect some of the big messages picked up when I was busy scuffing my shoes on the pew in front.

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One of those was what happened to Achilles, who was reckoned to be able to duff anyone up until someone nicked his tendons and laid him low.

A parable for today, because the seemingly all-powerful supermarkets also have an Achilles’ heel, and that is they are very vulnerable to what their customers think.

That is why campaigns in their forecourts on the present imbalance in the share out of cash in the milk chain are important.

That is why media stunts such as giving away pints of milk hit home for those who just saw milk as another item for their shopping baskets.

That is why it is important to get
celebrity chefs who are inordinately influential in today’s world, out supporting dairy farmers.

That is why, I believe, the Co-op and Wm Morrison have now decided to pay more for their milk than they were a week ago.

Although, it must be noted that the latter company has qualified its increase by stating it only runs to the end of October and it is doing it because of the weather farmers are facing.

So far, so good, as far as dairy farmers are concerned, but the discount supermarkets will be harder to topple as their customer base mainly comes through the doors looking for discounted produce and are less concerned with traceability and accountability.

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Meanwhile, the politicians will be pushed to actually do something with the UK government reluctant to go down the compulsory route in creating a code of conduct for the milk supply chain.

The trouble here is that the politicians’ Achilles’ heel is most exposed at election time and there are no elections in the offing, so can we expect any more than lots of words and no actions?

Before leaving the dairy sector, I would point out that everyone has a weak point and can be attacked.

In the current battle, I may be the only one to have noticed that all the television clips of dairy farmers have been on farms where the farmer is out in the field collecting his cows and then in the parlour milking the 80-to-100 strong herd – all very evocative and rural and also as the public likes to think of the industry.

What if another producer with, say, an 800-to-1,000 cow herd kept indoors all the year round and milked either automatically or with European labour is featured? Would this engender the same level of sympathy for the dairy farmer? I leave the question unanswered.

All this political turmoil in the dairy industry is going on against a backdrop of the worst growing season in living memory and quite possibly further back than that. This will lead to further problems right across the livestock sector through to next spring. With still a week to go in July, it is a safe bet that rainfall records will reach new heights while sunshine hours will reach lows.

Already fed-up with watching their stock knee-deep in mud, some cattle producers have already moved their cows inside, a necessary move but one that is costly in terms of keep.

Forage making has been difficult across the country and most of that which has been taken will be of poor quality.

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The recent rise in grain futures triggered by the worst droughts in decades across the US grain belt brings more bad news for livestock farmers.

Animal feed costs are moving up in line with cereals and other raw materials costing more.

However, this is not a case of up corn, down horn in the UK, where arable farmers might have normally thought they would financially benefit from the misfortunes of their livestock keeping colleagues.

A check by union combinable crops chairman Andrew Moir last week on how his committee saw the coming harvest was not cause for optimism.

From Easter Ross to Berwick on Tweed, growers were reckoning that yields have been hit and quality would not be good.

So, what is needed now is for the backlog of sunbeams to come forward and salvage the 2012 year and these sunbeams do not even need to be multi-coloured.