In the past few weeks the major milk buyers in the UK – Dairy Crest, Wisemans, Arla, Milk Link and First Milk have all announced a significant cut in the price they will pay British Dairy farmers for their milk, leading to renewed calls for a fairer deal for farmers. It seems that our hopes for future security and stability are largely being placed in changes to milk supply contracts – the NFU have called for “balanced and fair milk contracts”. Many contracts currently require farmers to give more than six months notice to quit, whilst it seems that processors can cut the price they pay within a few weeks of informing suppliers of their intentions. However, even if farmers were able to exit their contract with one month’s notice, where would they go? The recent cuts have been right across the board, with the move by one processor providing the stimulus for an avalanche in which all other follow suit.
British dairy farmers don’t just need to see a bit of ‘fair play’ or a small shift in the balance of power; we need wholesale change in the way in which milk from our farms is valued. This will not be achieved by negotiation with those above us in the supply chain. We must join forces to win recognition for what we produce and what we do and this can only be achieved by engaging directly with consumers.
Free Range Dairy is a movement which, ultimately, aims to create a brand for milk from British dairy farms. We should not be at the mercy of global commodity markets. Our milk and dairy products should be the choice of every British household regardless of price. In order to achieve this, we need to get in front of people to tell them of the following:
- The nutritional value of milk and dairy products that come from pasture-based herds which have, for generations, been the backbone of our industry.
- The way in which we care for our cows. We should not ‘commoditise’ the animals that produce our food in the way that large retailers have done.
- The role of farmers in caring for the countryside. This is not only about environmental safeguards and maintaining biodiversity but, also, the part that farms play in the rural economy and communities.
Do you see the milk your cows produce as a commodity or something more valuable? We have a real opportunity (and a desperate need) to brand UK milk and break free from the downward spiral that commodity markets hold us in. Winning the public vote and a fairer reward for our endeavours might seem like an uphill struggle, but we must start now.
We have a brand already! Join Free Range Dairy and help us all to realise that value that lies within it.