We should all be concerned at the news about First Milk. Over 1,000 dairy farmers across the UK won’t be paid on time because of a financial crisis at the organisation and at least two of those affected are from Barrow & Furness.
Dairy farming is a crucial British industry, but more than that, it’s not respected in the way that it should be. Too often dairy farming is subsistence farming, and that just shouldn’t be the case. It seems ludicrous to me that you can buy a pint of milk more cheaply than you can buy mineral water.
There are a couple of things that need to happen to help resolve this issue:
In the short term, First Milk needs to pay out to its suppliers – dairy farmers – on time. This is a difficult time for the industry. Numbers of dairy farmers are dropping, costs are rising and milk prices are dropping. That’s a terrible situation to be in. Quite simply, dairy farmers can’t afford the delay. Banks need to be sympathetic to the cases they will no doubt hear.
Longer term, we need to look at how we can protect the industry. No one wants to pay more at the checkout, but actually that’s what this is going to take. We’re only talking about putting up the cost of milk by a few pence, but for farmers that will make all the difference. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee put out a report today on what steps should be taken, and I heartily endorse them.
“This is about making sure that a valuable commodity – milk – is not cheap but affordable, and ensuring that dairy farmers do not become victim of supermarket price wars.”
We need to make sure that farmers are treated lawfully and fairly and I think it’s only sensible that the Groceries Code Adjudicator starts considering milk prices under its remit.
You might ask what I’ll be doing to support local dairy farmers, and you'd be quite right to do so.
I’ll be raising the individual cases with the Ministerial team at DEFRA and supporting the NFU in any steps it takes to support those affected. I’m keen to make the case because I believe in it.
If I were in parliament today, I would be pushing the issue to Ministers face-to-face, and I would certainly have taken the time to sign Early Day Motion 675 on the non-payment of dairy farmers which has been in place for a week.