Cumbrian dairy farmers could stage fresh protests at milk prices
Last updated at 13:58, Friday, 01 March 2013
A fresh round of dairy farmer protests against low milk prices could see Cumbrian producers on picket lines within weeks.
Lobby group Farmers For Action (FFA) has warned more protests could be on the cards if processors failed to lift milk prices and stick to the voluntary dairy code of conduct.
FFA chairman David Handley has said that, while protests were a last resort, expected price rises this month had not happened and the situation looked set to remain the same in March.
He has urged farmers to contact MPs and MEPs to voice their frustration at prices, saying if applying pressure on processors and politicians did not work, they would have to stage protests.
Meanwhile, First Milk, which has hundreds of Cumbrian farmers on its supply list and operates Aspatria’s creamery, is the latest company to pledge its support to the dairy industry voluntary code of practice.
The announcement by the firm, which is the last British farmer-owned milk co-operative, also sees the release of a members’ charter.
The company says it is currently working to ensure all its farmer contracts are fully compliant with the code.
Among other things it gives those Cumbrian farmers supplying the company a 12-month notice period.
Cumbrian dairy farmer Steve Dunning, chairman of First Milk’s farmer representative group, said his members were “happy” with the code of practice.
“But will it give farmers more clout? It should give us more power to negotiate milk prices,” said Mr Dunning.
On the subject of the notice period, Mr Dunning said: “Milk prices have to move up or down before anyone can leave. This notice period is a good thing. Farmers might be able to get a better deal elsewhere.”
But Mr Handley said: “The sad part is where would the farmers go to if they left?”
At the moment, said Mr Dunning, producers were getting 28p or 29p a litre for their milk. “This is 2p short of the cost of producing it,” he added.
Last November Cumbrian dairy farmers got an increase on the milk price from First Mill, owners of Aspatria’s creamery.
This came after a summer of discontent that saw payment cuts from a string of dairies and some farmers threatening to pour milk away rather than rather than accept payments well short of production costs.
Producers in First Milk’s liquid, cheese and balancing pools received a 0.5 pence per litre rise.
Tom Campbell, First Milk’s vice-chairman and a farmer director, said: “We wholeheartedly endorse the aims of the voluntary code of practice and believe that it is a big step in the right direction towards a level playing field for producers.
“As a farmer co-operative, our members ultimately determine the strategy of our business and the basis of the trading relationships through which they supply their milk and invest their capital.
“We have signed up to all the elements of the voluntary Code except the permitted exemptions for qualifying co-op’s.
“At the same time we have produced a members’ charter that details our strong farmer-focused governance and 100 per cent farmer control.
“The charter details a number of areas including how we set milk price, how members participate in our governance, how we reward member capital, plus how we consult and communicate with members and their representatives.
“The charter has been independently reviewed by SAOS [experts on co-operative and collaborative strategies, structures and management] and they have agreed to conduct an annual independent review on our actual practice against every single line in the charter.
“The annual independent review will be made available to all First Milk members.”
Mr Handley said farmers needed to make better use of the code and added: “You have to use the tools available and start making more noise.”
First published at 08:36, Friday, 01 March 2013
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk
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