Hundreds of British milk farmers picketed outside Arla and Robert Wiseman Dairy plants last night, protesting over plans to cut the price paid to suppliers for raw milk.
A Robert Wiseman plant near Bridgwater, Somerset was blockaded by hundreds of farmers and their tractors, while hundreds more protested outside Arla plants in Leeds and Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire.
An Arla spokesperson confirmed that milk distribution has been disrupted by the protests.
There were also demonstrations at a Morrisons distribution centre near Bridgwater and at another in Ashford, Kent in protest to low retailer milk pricing.
Farmers for Action (FFA) - the group behind the protests - are scheduled to meet with representatives from Robert Wiseman Dairies today in an effort to negotiate an improved price.
Their cause has been backed by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and High Fearnley-Whittingstall who, in a letter to the Times newspaper, urged the public to boycott some supermarkets.
FFA chairman David Handley, who was on the picket line at Bridgwater plant, told DairyReporter.com that more protests are likely tonight if today’s talks are not successful.
“It’s got to a point where it feels like we’re talking to a brick wall,” said Handley. “They will just not accept that there is enough money in the dairy supply chain to share.”
“So we decided that if nothing had changed by Thursday, someone would be targeted. We aren’t going to lie down and take it.”
“We’ve got a meeting this morning with Robert Wiseman Dairies,” said Handley, “but we are still waiting on a meeting with Arla.”
According to Handley, milk processors and retailers share between 55p and 60p per litre – a margin the farmers want a share of.
“We aren’t being greedy; we just want our fair share of the money in the supply chain,” he said.
Handley added, however, that if nothing is achieved during the meeting the protests could continue.
“There is a possibility that we will be out tonight, but first we will wait and see the outcome of the meeting. The plan from then on will be to negotiate over the weekend and into next week.”
“If we feel that we aren’t getting anywhere, then we’ll be back protesting,” the FFA chairman added.
Processors barely profitable
When contacted, both Robert Wiseman and Arla stressed that they are currently in no position to fund an improved milk price.
“Unless the returns are there in the market place, we don’t have the money to pay the farmers,” an Arla spokesperson said.
A statement from Robert Wiseman added: “We fully understand the strength of feeling amongst dairy producers and continue to engage with those with an interest in the dairy supply chain.”
“It is our hope that the market for liquid milk and bulk cream which is at the core of this issue will quickly find a balance which will allow us to return improved prices to farmers.”
According to Shore Capital industry analyst, Clive Black, negotiations between the farmers and the processors will be difficult because “everyone in the UK liquid milk chain is also hurting to some degree.”
“Liquid dairy processors are barely profitable, if at all at present.”
“Whilst not always the flavour of the month for many in the farming community supermarket margins are returns are also in decline,” added Black.