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Milk prices row: Morrisons to meet farming leaders

Published 07/08/2015

Dairy farmers say the prices they are offered for their milk are unfair
Dairy farmers say the prices they are offered for their milk are unfair

Morrisons will meet farming industry leaders next week to discuss milk prices following protests by farmers.

Protesters across the country have been taking part in the Milk Trolley Challenge and blockading Morrisons distribution centres in Somerset and Cheshire.

The challenge sees farmers removing all cartons of milk from shops including Morrisons and Lidl before paying for it and taking it away or dumping it at the checkout.

Arla, Britian's biggest milk co-operative, previously announced a price cut of 0.8p per litre - taking the standard litre price to 23.01p for its UK members.

Farmers estimate that it costs between 30 to 32p to produce each litre of milk, meaning they are losing almost 10p per litre.

Last night, 1,000 farmers gathered at Morrisons depot in Bridgwater, Somerset, while 600 blockaded another in Middlewich, Cheshire.

Dozens of Milk Trolley Challenges have taken place across Britain, including Cornwall, Lancashire, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Farmers For Action (FFA) thanked protesters for their "fantastic" support and urged them to target retailers other than Morrisons.

"Following all the recent activity in the last seven days, with Milk Trolley Challenged originated by young farmers, and protests held in Cheshire last week and again last night Cheshire (600 in attendance) and Bridgwater in Somerset (1,000 in attendance), Morrisons are to meet with industry leaders on Tuesday of next week to discuss the serious issue facing British dairy farmers," it said.

"We would now please ask everyone to focus their attention on other retailers whilst talks with Morrisons take place.

"Well done last night to everybody, both young and old your support was fantastic, behaviour was exemplary and obviously a big thank you to all our other partners who have played a part in the last seven days focusing on the plight faced in the British dairy industry."

Last Thursday, video footage emerged of a group of farmers emptying milk from a Morrisons store in Yate, south Gloucestershire.

"We're doing the Milk Trolley Challenge," a woman says in the footage.

"This is due to the unfair milk price. We are clearing the shelves. Morrisons, you have been milked."

One protester shouts "too cheap, take it away" as the group loads cartons of milk into a line of trolleys in the store.

A spokesman for Morrisons confirmed the company would hold talks with industry leaders about the issue next week.

"We are disappointed with the disruption being caused to our stores and our customers," he added.

"We recognise that the current issue is being caused by a reduction in global demand for milk that has led to an over-supply in the UK and very difficult conditions for many dairy farmers.

"We want to reiterate that we are not seeking any further reductions in milk prices and we will continue our talks with the NFU , in a constructive manner, to finalise our agreed plan of action."

Yesterday, the UK's four main farming unions - the NFU Cymru, the NFU, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union - called for the four UK farming ministers to meet with them.

The NFU estimates that only 10% of dairy farmers are on contracts that track their cost of production, with most selling milk below that cost.

It added that farmers are also suffering in lamb and arable sectors, with rapeseed, feed wheat and barley growers receiving less than the cost of production.

Next Monday, the presidents of the four unions will meet in London for an emergency summit of farming organisations.

In a joint statement, they said: "UK farmers do have the potential to play an enormous part in the economic recovery of the UK and, at the same time, to provide much more of the food the country needs.

"Therefore we call on the UK farming ministers to meet jointly with us as soon as possible to identify what they can do to alleviate the very serious problems facing our industry and help UK farmers reach their very real potential."

Figures published by AHDB Dairy, an organisation for dairy farmers, show the average UK farmgate price was 24.06p per litre in May, a decrease of 25.4% on the amount paid to farmers in May last year.

A spokeswoman said farmers "anecdotally" put the costs of production at between 30 and 32 pence per litre.

Farmers in Northern Ireland received an average of 21p per litre in May, a drop of 32.1% compared with the same month last year.

A spokeswoman for Arla said the co-operative is "acutely aware" of difficulties farmers are facing.

"We are working independently with all our customers to support our farmer owners throughout this period of global market volatility," she said.

"The situation is not helped by the fact that global milk production has consistently and continues to grow faster than global demand. These global developments are impacting all dairy markets throughout the world.

"It's not a lack of effort or determination on Arla's part; we are doing everything possible to help our farmer owners to navigate through this increasingly tough situation, in the best possible way.

"The pressures that our farmer owners are facing are not unique to Arla or to the UK dairy industry."

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