MP calls for "fair deal" for dairy farmers
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has called on the Government to address the “unsustainable situation” where dairy farmers are “paid a price below the cost of production” for their milk.
In a debate on the dairy industry in the Commons last week (Wednesday 4 January) Mr Herbert said that more needed to be done to help producers in the short term and that dairy farmers were “part of the backbone of the rural economy”.
Farmers have faced deep and rapid drops in milk price in the past six months, arising from a drop in worldwide demand, a Russian trade ban, and international oversupply following high milk prices in 2013. Protests have resulted at some processing plants, and farmers have been leaving the industry, bringing the total number of UK dairy farmers below 10,000 for the first time.
Mr Herbert met local dairy farmers last month to discuss the situation and what can be done to help struggling producers.
Speaking in the Commons debate the MP said that during “the past two decades or more, the number of dairy farmers in West Sussex has reduced significantly”, and warned that the national trend suggests that there will be further reductions in capacity, meaning that “dairy production in the county will become a very rare thing”.
Some supermarkets have been blamed for paying low prices to producers for milk and dairy products. Mr Herbert called on the Government to strengthen the powers of the independent regulator which oversees the relationship between supermarket and supplier, the Groceries Code Adjudicator, “across the supply chain and ensuring that the adjudicator can levy substantial fines and mount proactive investigations”.
Last year the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called for stronger powers for the Adjudicator, a proposal welcomed by the National Farmers Union.
Mr Herbert announced the policy of an adjudicator – then described as an ‘Ombudsman’ – at the Oxford Farming Conference five years ago when he was Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Referring to the idea in this week’s debate, he said: “I believe then, as I do now, that in spite of having faith in free markets, when markets operate in an unfair way, damage can be caused not just to producers but to consumers”.
Mr Herbert also called on the Government to “press hard” for “country of origin labelling for our produce” and for “a national campaign to market and promote British produce as the means by which consumers can support British production”.
He argued that “we have not yet succeeded in extending the principle, partly because of the problems with getting EU agreement and also because of problems with the authorities who claim that such measures increase the burden of regulation”.
The MP also called on the Government to “look carefully at public procurement and the way in which the public sector can do more to produce British produce”.
Mr Herbert concluded: “The long-term outlook for dairy farming may be rosy, given the potential for global markets to improve and for the international consumption of dairy products to increase, but we need to do more to help producers in the short term to recognise that dairy farmers are part of the backbone of the rural economy. It is not in the national interest to continue to see their loss.”
Last week (Thursday 12 February) the Government announced the creation of new Food Enterprise Zones, two of which are in West Sussex and the South Downs National Park. In the South Downs the funding is intended to enable new dairy production on existing dairy farms by re-using redundant farm buildings and brownfield sites within the National Park. It will also allow for more farm shops to be set up allowing direct sale to consumers.
1. To read the Commons debate see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150204/halltext/150204h0001.htm.
2. To read Nick Herbert’s announcement of a Supermarket Ombudsman at the 2010 Oxford Farming Conference see http://www.nickherbert.com/news.php/26/supermarket-ombudsman-needed-to-ensure-a-fair-market.
3. To read the Commons Efra Committee report see http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/news/dairy-prices-report/.
4. For more information about the Defra announcement on the creation of new Food Enterprise Zones see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/food-enterprise-zones-created-to-drive-growth.