Dairy farmers have been urged to make their voices heard on the unfairness in the supply chain, as industry leaders find themselves at loggerheads over the best way to tackle it.
Dairy UK has reasserted its opposition to dairy contract regulation, saying its processing members and dairy farmers were opposed. Its chairman Paul Vernon warned of the longer term consequences from regulation.
But the four UK farming unions have urged dairy farmers to speak up against the ‘imbalance of power’ in the supply chain.
Mr Vernon said instead of creating less risk, regulation would create more and result in a less competitive industry at ‘a time of great instability’.
He said: “We intend to work closely with our members and their dairy farmers to communicate our message to Government and ensure we have a sustainable and flexible dairy industry for farmers and processors.”
NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said it was interesting that Dairy UK said it was fighting the corner for farmers, but was really worried about the impact on buyers’ discretion.
Mr Oakes said: “They like the status quo. They can pass the risk on price back down to farmers.”
He admitted Dairy UK was probably right that farmers were not complaining to their buyers about their contract terms.
“But they would probably say I have an issue with the way I get paid and the way they treat me,” he said.
“All of that is directed, ultimately, by the contract.”
NFU Scotland milk policy manager George Jamieson said the unions wanted everyone to work together with it being a ‘once in a generation chance to get it right’.
“Our dearest wish is a proper constructive dialogue; we are listening to other sides of the story, listening to processors,” he said, adding the union had done detailed research, including visiting Spain and discussing the issues with leading experts.
“Nothing we have researched so far suggests we cannot find a policy going forward.”
Mr Oakes agreed, adding there needed to be a period of time to allow processors to adapt to the new rules.
He said: “We realise you need time to change and time to do what is best for your business.”