NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes appeared before NFU Council this week to update members on the top issues in the dairy sector, namely milk contracts and the Defra Clean Air Strategy.
On dairy contracts:
“Following Defra’s announcement in February that they will be regulating on milk contracts this year, we, the NFU, have written to all dairy farmers in England to clarify our position and asks on the issue. Ensuring dairy farmers are offered contracts which are fair and fit for purpose has been a key lobbying priority for the NFU Dairy Board for a number of years, and we want to make the most of this opportunity for change.
“Defra will firstly consult on how to bring in mandatory milk contracts, and we now await the launch of this consultation. We will be submitting a strong response, and will discuss this with farmers and milk buyers over the next few months. Put simply, we welcome regulation, but it must be done in a flexible and positive way, with clauses that deliver fair and equitable contract terms and stop many of the ills that we’ve seen in recent years.
“As we leave the EU, the UK dairy market needs to be commercially focused, innovative and competitive. It’s time for buyers to look to the future, operate as commercial businesses and deal with farmers fairly.”
On Defra's Clean Air Strategy:
“The NFU Dairy Board is also extremely concerned about the proposals set out in Defra’s Clean Air Strategy aimed at reducing ammonia emissions in the agricultural sector. Defra has set out three approaches which it proposes could be introduced separately or in combination: the introduction of nitrogen (or fertiliser) limits, extension of environmental permitting to large dairy farms by 2025 and rules on specific emission-reducing practices.
“We are strongly opposed to the idea of permitting in the dairy sector as it is not the right solution to improve air quality. As recognised in the recently published Dairy Roadmap, we are committed to improving the environmental performance of the industry, but this can be delivered through a better system of knowledge transfer and advice, through targeted grant support and through expanding industry initiatives such as the Campaign for Farmed Environment and Catchment Sensitive Farming.
“Having seen the volatility of the dairy markets over the past few years it is not surprising farmers haven’t been able to invest in cattle shed improvements or low emission slurry spreading equipment and we are concerned over how Defra and the Environment Agency is expecting farmers to be able to comply with permitting standards. The NFU will be working alongside other stakeholders to look at the impact permitting would have on the dairy sector and to provide clarity on the number of dairy farms who could be affected– currently the consultation simply refers to “large” farms.
“As well as this, the NFU dairy team will be working alongside the environment team and other industry stakeholders to ensure we provide a robust response to the consultation.”