UK farmers to march on London tomorrow in protest over low prices

Over 1,000 UK farmers prepare to march on London tomorrow to highlight the challenges they face due to low prices.

The farmers plan to present a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron at Number 10 outlining their concerns for the industry.

The number of UK farmers involved in dairying has halved in the last 10 years, to around 10,000 today.

UK dairy farmers incomes saw their incomes fall by 5% a report last year showed and low milk prices were attributed to the drop.

NFU chief dairy adviser Sian Davies said the vast majority of UK dairy farmers are still hoping the market will improve in the short-term – but that isn’t going to happen. “We need to help them plan to survive the next 12 months.”

‘We could learn from Irish farming’

Organising the protest is the Farmers for Action group whose Chairman, David Handley, has said that the UK should to be learning how to promote its food from Ireland.

“Ireland has been very good at promoting and selling its products. It’s light-years ahead of this side of the water. We’ve just sat on our arses here.

“In Ireland, politicians are passionate about farming. Here they want to hide from it.”

UK farmers incomes

The letter being presented to Cameron, as well as highlighting the low prices farmers are receiving, will also touch upon the the lack of power given to the Grocery Code Adjudicator.

Earlier this year, an investigation by the adjudicator, Christine Tacon, found that Tesco was in breach of the legally-binding Groceries Supply Code of Practice (the Code) to protect groceries suppliers.

It emerged that retailer had acted unreasonably when delaying payments to suppliers.

Large dairies such as Muller, First Milk and Arla have cut their milk prices over the past 12 months.

Arla’s base milk price has fallen by 4p/L since April last year while Muller’s has fallen over 3p/L since April also.

Furthermore, Arla recently gave up to 50 of its farmer suppliers notice that it  wouldn’t be taking their milk in 12 months time, leaving farmers with no buyer for their milk.

Known as ‘Arla Directs’, the farmers supply around 40m litres of milk to the dairy annually. They now have until March next year to find a new buyer.

Exiting the industry

Two years ago, Handley said that he would quit dairying and exit the industry. While he hasn’t exited completely yet, he has scaled down his farm.

Speaking to Agriland he said that he is now down to 60 cows for milking, from 140. He also had young stock and a breeding operation – but that’s all gone now.

“If we’ve another price drop, exiting dairying won’t be a question. We’re haemorrhaging so much money.

“We invested heavily, we were told by the unions to grow for profit. Twelve months ago I was getting 28p/L (35.97c/L), now I’m getting 18p/L (23.1c/L).”

Handley has said that the farmers protesting on March 23 aren’t looking for money or hand-outs.

All sectors of agriculture in Britain are on their knees, the government has to come out with leadership.

“Do they expect British agriculture to operate in an open free market? Or do they want British food for British people and for exports?

“If that’s the case [the latter] they have to look at the criteria British farmers are working against.

“There are a lot of questions to be answered and that’s why we’re going to Downing Street.”