During the successful campaign to stop the proposed 8,000 cow mega-dairy in Nocton, Lincolnshire, one of the leading farmers involved in the opposition campaign was dairy farmer, Neil Darwent. With arguments raging over the price of milk in the UK, this article by Neil caught my eye. I reproduce it here with Neil’s kind permission and that of Free Range Dairy.

The bitter taste of cheap food

Was it you? Did you go into your local supermarket and demand cheap milk? No. Well, who was it then? Who said it was okay for retailers and processors to pay dairy farmers less for their milk than it actually cost to produce?

You see, the supermarkets tell us that they only stock what the consumer wants. So, if I’ve got this right, people have been going into the supermarkets and saying the following:

  • I don’t care what is in my milk
  • I don’t care what kind of life the cows that produce my milk have
  • I am happy to see dairy cows vanish from the British landscape
  • I am happy to get my milk and dairy products from distant shores with no knowledge of how it was produced
  • All I care is that the price is low

Now whoever you are, it’s time you owned up. Because the reality is there is really no such thing as cheap milk. Somewhere, somebody pays the real price and, right now, it’s the farmers and their cows.

Cutting prices to farmers

The milk buyer Wisemans (now owned by those Müller people who make those lovely yoghurts) have just cut the price they pay to farmers by two pence a litre. Ouch! That will hurt their suppliers.

But wait, there’s more – from 1st August they propose to cut the milk price by a further 1.7 pence a litre. But Wisemans are the only ones to have ‘declared their hand’ for August until now and you can bet your bottom dollar others will soon follow in their wake.

Costs of production: 30 pence plus; price received by some will be minus 25 pence

Farmers stand to lose a lot following the two price cuts I mentioned above and many will find themselves on a milk price of less than 25 pence a litre this summer, whilst costs of production are widely quoted in excess of 30 pence.

But what’s that I hear you say? Sainsburys have just increased the price they pay to farmers by 0.26 pence a litre to something over 30 pence. Yes, you’re right, around 324 lucky farmers are getting a price that covers their production. You see, these guys supply Sainsburys with their liquid milk – a line fiercely defended by large retailers because it’s a basic staple that get customers through the door to buy other things.

Just ask them what milk price the farmers who supply milk for their cheese, cream, butter and yoghurts are getting and I think you’ll find it’s substantially less.

Apologies if I sound like a whining farmer. I’m not begging anyone to bail out poor, down-trodden milk producers. But what I am asking is that you take time to understand why we and our cows are worth more. That’s what Free Range Dairy is all about. So please take a look at the website if you haven’t done already and start asking questions about where your milk comes from.

Finally, you – yes you – the one who asked for cheap milk – our cows are very disappointed in you.

By Compassion in World Farming

Photograph: Steph French

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