Farmers For Action (FFA) demonstrated and created blockades at Arla Foods UK and Muller Wiseman Dairies processing facilities last week, in its latest attempt to bring an end to its long-running dispute with processors over farm gate milk prices.
FFA chairman David Handley told DairyReporter.com that around 160 FFA members blocked the entrance to Muller Wiseman’s Market Drayton site in Shropshire using tractors on the evening of 14 July. Another 90 FFA protesters demonstrated outside Arla’s facility in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire on 12 July.
The protests are part of the FFA-led 'SOS Dairy' campaign, which is demanding a share of processors' mounting dairy profits for milk producers.
According to Handley, “most things in the dairy market are returning higher margins than they were 3 or 4 months ago."
The campaign group is not satisfied that the 'Big Three' UK milk processors – Dairy Crest, Arla and Muller Wiseman - are compensating its dairy farmers suppliers accordingly.
Following its demonstration at Arla's plant in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, FFA met with the company's finance directors for negotiations. These are due to reconvene in Leeds on 23 July.
Handley claims FFA asked during the talks what the company would do if Muller Wiseman increased its payment to farmers.
“Oh we’ll match that,” was the answer Handley claimed Arla gave.
Handley alleged Muller Wiseman had the same price-matching policy, but admitted that FFA had had no direct negotiations with Muller Wiseman, who had directed him to negotiate instead with its farmers board.
“We know the money is there – we follow the markets – and therefore all we’re asking you to do is let some of that money come back at farm gate level. If it doesn’t then protests are going to increase and they’re going to escalate," he said.
Muller: “We question their logic’
FFA’s actions are a renewal of its protests throughout 2012, when it urged a public boycott of firms including Dairy Crest and First Milk, and blockaded Muller and Arla factories, preventing deliveries for several hours.
“I think the situation could get as bad as last year if this prolonged stand-off continues,” said Handley.
FFA’s chairman described the blockades as a “last resort”.
“We don’t want to be doing this. This is a very, very sad place to be when after all the hard work that was done last year and all the promises that were made to find not even 12 months on from that, milk processors were playing the same game they’ve always played," he added.
A spokesman for Müller Wiseman responded, "We do question their logic given that we offer farmers a choice of leading contracts, one of which has a direct link to returns from commodity markets.
"It shouldn't be forgotten that over and above this, all Müller Wiseman producers are entitled to valuable incentive payments.
"All of this has been developed in consultation with farmer representatives. For people with no connection to our company to simply ignore all of this this is counter-productive and damaging," the spokesman added.