Bute dairy farmers back NFU plans for milk price reform

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BUTE’S dairy farmers have given their unanimous backing to a proposal by NFU Scotland aimed at giving producers a much fairer price for their milk.

The union now has the support of more than five hundred of Scotland’s dairy farmers for what it says would be a new, transparent pricing formula which would be incorporated into all milk producers’ contracts with both processors and retailers.

A meeting at Kingarth Hotel on Thursday night, attended by most of the island’s dairy farmers, heard a presentation from Kenneth Campbell, chairman of NFU Scotland’s milk committee, union vice-president Allan Bowie, milk policy director George Jamieson and membership director Alison Gillespie on the benefits the union believes the new formula will bring to dairy farmers – not just in Scotland but across the UK.

The Kingarth meeting was the last in a series of roadshow events in which the union team has met dairy farmers from throughout Scotland to outline its proposal – which, if it had been in place this month, would have given UK dairy farmers an average price of 32p for a litre of milk, instead of an average of less than 27p, a figure which itself is substantially lower on Bute.

“The fact that five hundred people have attended these roadshows is testament to the dissatisfaction that we are all feeling with milk prices today,” Mr Campbell, a dairy farmer from Castle Douglas, said.

“I’ve been the boss of my business for ten years now, and I’m now getting to the stage where I couldn’t give a toss who’s to blame – I just want to receive a fair price for my milk.

“We’re just about at the bottom of the milk price table in Europe, and there’s absolutely no reason why we should be so low. It’s not going to do as far as I’m concerned.

“All I can ask,” he told the Bute farmers present, “is that you are open-minded about what we are proposing. We don’t have all the answers just yet, but please ask as many questions as you like and we will reply as best we can.”

Mr Bowie said the union had begun its work on a new method of milk pricing last September, and that they now had the support of their NFU colleagues in other parts of the UK, as well as the Scottish Government, civil servants, Scotland’s representatives in the European Parliament and – crucially – milk processing companies, such as First Milk.

One major supermarket company has also given its support to the idea, and the union is confident that others will follow.

“This is not price-fixing,” Mr Bowie said, “and we cannot ask you to rip up contracts.

“But we do know this formula will give you a price that is a damn sight better than the one you are currently getting.”

Mr Jamieson said that while the new calculation might result in more volatility in milk prices, the peaks in price would be higher and the troughs not as low as at present.

“We think there are huge opportunities in this for Scottish producers to benefit from global markets,” he said. “We’re going to be left behind unless the whole sector realises that dairy farmers have to be repaid fairly.”

Ms Gillespie, meanwhile, said no ‘show-stopping’ concerns had been raised in the union’s talks so far with processing companies and major retailers about the new formula, and that following the Bute meeting – the last in a tour which has also visited Dumfries, Stranraer, Ayr, Lanark, Thainstone, Kinross and Campbeltown – the union would go back to processors and retailers with the knowledge that all the dairy farmers consulted on that tour were in favour of the plan.

“You’ve got nothing to lose if you get behind this,” Ms Gillespie told the farmers present.

“The one retailer we have spoken to so far says Britishness and sustainability are big selling points, and this is not something they are suggesting they can’t buy into.”

Asked by Jean Kennedy of Largievrechtan when the new formula might be brought into effect, Mr Jamieson said he was hopeful it could be in place for the start of the next milk quota year, in April 2012 – though that brought a reminder from Robert Macintyre (Dunallan) that the importance of fighting for better prices in the short term should not be forgotten.

Those fears were eloquently expressed by Alistair McFarlane of Little Kilchattan, who warned: “This formula has got to work. If we go through another winter without a significant increase in the price of milk, there is going to be a mass exodus from the industry.”

Mr Jamieson concluded: “Everyone working with everyone else is the key to this. It won’t mean everyone getting the same price for their milk, but it would mean the floor being lifted higher than it is now.”