Farmer’s leaders in the South West say the Government’s consultation on dairy contracts, which has just concluded, is a key opportunity for the industry to make a positive change for the future.
The hope is that the outcome of the consultation will be a fairer situation, with the risk more equally shared between milk producers and processors.
“Blatantly unfair contract terms such as retrospective price cuts or denial of the ability to discuss the terms of the contract must be banned. We need contracts that are fit for the future, where producers at least have the option of transparent pricing structures so businesses can plan and budget,” said South West NFU dairy board chairman Andrew Branton.
“Government has long recognised the weaker position of the producer in the supply chain. Farmers have often complained about it and we are consistently behind the EU average, so let’s take the chance to make a positive change.”
October would normally see hundreds of dairy farmers gathering for the Dairy Show at the Bath & West Showground, usually one of the highlights of the industry’s year, but continuing coronavirus restrictions meant it could not go ahead.
“The show has always been an excellent chance to catch up with old friends and new ideas so is a sad loss, to say nothing of the hard work and frustration for the organisers,” said Mr Branton.
“Covid initially put massive pressure on parts of our supply chain, with both producers and processors suffering severe impacts from the immediate closure of schools, pubs and restaurants. On the plus side it was positive to see how the nation turned to cheese, and dairy generally, to fill their fridges and families to survive the lockdown period – you can’t beat the taste!”
The hope is that shoppers will continue to choose high-quality British produce, and the groundswell of support that saw more than a million people signing the NFU’s petition calling for food standards to be maintained, will focus the minds of politicians at a crucial time.
With the debate around the Agriculture Bill expected to continue as the legislation returns to the House of Lords and the end of the Brexit transition period in sight, issues like food standards and the need for a favourable Brexit trade deal are at the front of most farmers’ minds.
Europe is an important market for dairy farmers. According to Dairy UK, in 2018 the country exported £1.6bn worth of dairy products, of which 78% by value and 90% by volume went to the EU.
“Clearly, any tariffs or other restrictions on trade will have an immediate impact on our markets if we add to the cost of exporting, particularly with domestic retailers competing ever-harder for market share,” said Mr Branton.
“We need to continue to make the case for a sensible deal to be reached.”