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Price of a pinta debate continues

by Rod Kebble

Six pints of bottled milk delivered to the doorstep.

There have been further developments in the debate about the prices paid to dairy farmers for their milk:

  • in his column for The Daily Telegraph on Saturday 16th June, CRT co-founder and chairman Robin Page took supermarkets to task for causing the reduction in prices paid to farmers. Robin announced that the CRT was writing to the chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda, asking them to pay the rent of Pierrepont Farm’s tenant farmer, Mike Clear, who will have been seeing a reduction in income of approaching £1,500 a month since 1st June. Robin argued that if — as a result of the price reductions — Mike is unable to pay his rent, then the CRT would effectively be subsidising the supermarkets. Referring to the planned grocery adjudicator, Robin forecast “a ‘watchdog’ with no bark, no teeth and no power. We’ve seen them before”.
  • a reply came from Justin King, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, in a letter that appeared in the Telegraph on Friday 22 June (no link available). Mr King said his supermarket has been paying its dairy farmers a premium for the past six years, as well as developing a pricing model to maintain the sustainability and profitability of farms for the long term. So far as I know, none of the other supermarkets named have replied.
  • immediately below Mr King’s letter was one from Lucy Heath (again no link available), a Staffordshire farmer, who said “The taxpayer pays 92p a pint for milk for children. As dairy farmers, we would be happy to supply ours — we currently get about 16p a pint.” Ms Heath was referring to an article in the paper, which said the government was thinking of buying milk for the under-5s directly from farmers, after using middlemen had led to high prices.
  • UK dairy farmers who are members of the Milk Link cooperative (as are Pierrepont’s Mike and Bev Clear) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of merging with Arla Europe, a cooperative owned by Danish, Swedish and German farmers. On an 83% turnout 99.53% of the votes were cast in favout of the tie-up, with just 0.47% against. The Arla Food amba Board of Representatives held a simultaneous vote, with 96.8% of votes in favour. The merger is subject to regulatory approval. The link-up will create the UK’s largest milk processor, with annual production in excess of three billion litres and a turnover above £2 billion.
  • earlier this month, I received from my MP, Zac Goldsmith, a copy of the reply (see photo below) he had been sent from Jim Paice MP, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, whose early career was in farm management. The EU dairy package referred to by the Minister may be viewed on the European Commissions’s website. Farmers Weekly has commented on the package, as has the NFU.

Letter from the Minister for Agriculture and Food to Zac Goldsmith MP