David Handley’s Western Daily Press Article

Posted on: 22/11/21

Below is David Handley’s Western Daily Press article which appeared in Saturdays edition



Anyone remotely familiar with the history of Farmers For Action will know we have never been flavour of the month with the farming establishment – well, let’s not mince words, the NFU.

Particularly at a time when we were going into meetings and negotiating price deals for farmers – something the NFU would never stoop to dirty its hands with.

We proved to be very effective in putting farming’s case. And clearly people haven’t forgotten that because the more the current crisis builds in the dairy sector the more the phone calls and emails flood in accusing FFA of being partly to blame for the situation because it has taken its foot off the gas.

I take some small degree of satisfaction from the fact that such a small organisation as ours is seen as pivotal in improving the fortunes of the industry while the organisation which is supposed to represent farmers clearly isn’t.

But the reality is such at the moment that the public needs to be put on its guard against the growing possibility of a real meltdown in the dairy sector.

The latest report from industry analysts suggests that farmers need a minimum of 35 ppl to survive at the moment: a figure far in excess of what most are receiving. Coming at it from another direction if I apply the cost of living index to what I was getting for my milk back in 1995 I should be currently paid 45 pence a litre and therefore would have the necessary spare cash for reinvestment and improvement.

Costs have indisputably risen: fertiliser is now over £600 a ton, feed has risen by more than £150 a ton and, in common with all consumers, farmers are paying more for fuel and electricity.

Perhaps this should be regarded as a wake-up point for the industry. Perhaps we need to consider whether we should rethink our fertiliser use, seriously consider reverting to smaller herds instead of constantly scaling up; in short being rather more professional rather than simply repeating the demands for better prices.

FFA is coming under pressure to start organised protests again. Not to inconvenience huge numbers of people as the climate protestors seem to enjoy doing but to raise the issue of dairy farming’s precarious state with the general public and so harness public opinion to support us.

I’d like to think that there might be some hard negotiating between processors and retailers but from my experience of 20 years or so ago that seems an unrealistic expectation. When negotiations were held previously the processors would come out and tell me they’d been shown the door, invited to use it and certainly not to bother asking for more money. On the other hand when we spoke to the retailers they would assure us that the matter of more money hadn’t even been mentioned.

Which of the two versions to believe? Neither, in my view.

Taking a long hard look at the dairy industry to see how it can become both more resilient and more profitable cannot be a quick process and as far as large sections of the sector are concerned they don’t have the luxury of time on their side.

On the other hand if – and that, based on experience, is a very big if indeed – the processors are serious about obtaining better prices for us then they need only approach the retailers and inform them that unless there is more money on the table in pretty short order then more liquid milk will be diverted into product. 

Because while consumers may shrug their shoulders and accept shortages of crisps, Christmas puddings and other seasonal goodies as a short-term inconvenience they tend to get rather more anxious when there’s no milk to be had.

And should the retailers have the brass neck to protest that they cannot afford to pay more for milk then the processors need only produce a single trump card I the shape of the balance sheets showing the astronomic profits being banked by supermarkets on a daily basis.