Bute MSP in fresh blast at First Milk

The crisis facing Bute's dairy farmers has been spelled out once more in a Scottish Parliament debate this week.
The crisis facing Bute's dairy farmers has been spelled out once more in a Scottish Parliament debate this week.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell has aimed more angry criticism at dairy co-operative First Milk over its treatment of crisis-torn farmers in the area.

During a Scottish Parliament debate on agriculture on Wednesday, Mr Russell criticised First Milk’s decision to pay a new premium dividend for cheese to only some of the company’s farmer members.

That premium price will be paid by supermarket giant Tesco, for the milk used to make cheese at First Milk’s Haverfordwest plant in south Wales.

Mr Russell says the principles of a co-operative mean that all its members should benefit from that higher price - but instead First Milk has decided only the farmers who supply that Haverfordwest facility will benefit.

“Those who supply the Haverfordwest plant will get a huge boost in payments, but all the other members, whose money has gone to equip and run it over the years, will get nothing,” he complained.

“When is a co-operative not a co-operative? The answer is when it is run by First Milk.

“I appeal to First Milk to rescind that decision to help all its members to survive, not just some. The members of First Milk have much money tied up in the company and they want it to succeed, but if First Milk turns its back on them just when they need it most, it will forfeit all right to respect and continuing support.”

Mr Russell used the example of Robert Macintyre, who farms at Dunallan on Bute’s west coast, to spell out the crisis facing dairy farmers in the Bute, Kintyre and Gigha areas.

“Last year, Robert’s son, Robert, came home from a successful career in England because he wanted to take over the farm,” Mr Russell told the Parliament chamber.

“The price of milk was good and the prospects for the industry were promising. That was last year. Earlier this year, the price of milk plummeted, as members know only too well, and the price has gone on falling.

“The two Roberts at Dunallan are producing milk for a First Milk price that is some 10p or more per litre below the cost of production. They are pouring their money into a tanker and off the island, and they cannot do that for ever.”

Mr Russell said First Milk had been “a disastrously run company”, and warned that the future of the dairy industry in Argyll and BUte “hangs on a knife edge”.

He warned: “If there is not a significant price rise or significant intervention before the winter sets in, with increased feeding costs, many of those who are presently in the sector will leave it, no matter the cost to them.”

Earlier this year First Milk cut the price it pays to its Bute farmers for their milk by 1.2 pence per litre more than its mainland members, and blamed the move on the higher cost of transporting milk from the island for processing at mainland facilities - something forced on those farmers by First Milk’s own decision in 2009 to close its award-winning creamery in Rothesay.