A Crisis in the Dairy Industry

Mark Sandford – October 2015
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It was not that long ago that the dairy industry was reeling over the outbreak of bovine TB in cattle and a furious debate then ensued on the best means of dealing with this. This led to a government-sponsored cull of badgers in trial counties such as Gloucestershire and Somerset. Whether this achieved the desired objective or not still remains to be seen and will be debated, no doubt, for months and years to come.

A new challenge has thrust its ugly head into the industry and that is falling prices, not just for milkk but also for lamb and some arable products. This has been caused by a fall in demand for dairy products from China and a Russian ban on imports of agricultural products from Western Europe. This was enacted in retaliation over sanctions imposed by NATO countries as a response to perceived Russian involvement in the Ukraine stand-off.

This has resulted in a cycle, at present, where supply exceeds demand for agricultural products. Farmers are watching their incomes being knocked sideways as prices fall, and not just for milk. This has led to protests by farmers at branches of Morrisons, Aldi and Asda over what they are being paid for milk. The NFU has also co-ordinated protests all over the country, including Scotland. Asda has committed to paying 28p per litre for all liquid milk. It has also stated that it would increase the price that it pays to its milk supplier Arla, with the desire that this is passed on to the dairy industry. Morrisons has also launched a new brand that will see more money going back to dairy farmers.

The NFU also demanded and got a meeting with Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs over the issue. This was prompted by demonstrations in which farmers took cattle into stores. This has been described as a constructive dialogue and Ms Truss has given her backing to creating a working group to meet supermarkets and other suppliers on better branding for British products. Discussion has also revolved on how to build a better foundation for the dairy industry and underpin a sustainable future.

The dairy industry supports hundreds of jobs across the West Country and other parts of the United Kingdom. We cannot afford as a society to sit back and watch while it falls apart. There is no magic potion that will solve the sector’s woes overnight, but we can do our bit individually and buy British produce. British lamb and beef can compete with the rest of the world, certainly on quality. If we allow the dairy sector to fall into ruin, we will end up living to regret it.

See: BBC UK news

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