Farmers stage milk-price blockades

Milk bottlesHundreds of farmers have blockaded processing plants into the early hours of the morning in a protest against the price they are paid for milk.

Supporters of the organisation Farmers for Action (FFA) used tractors to block a Robert Wiseman Dairy processing plant near Bridgwater, Somerset, on Thursday night, while other farmers gathered outside an Arla plant in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, and another plant in Leeds.

Dairy farmers are furious about cuts of up to 2p a litre in the amount they receive from major milk processors. Many fear the shortfall will force them out of business.

The action is the latest in a series of protests by farmers who are angry that they are to be paid less for their milk than the cost to produce it.

David Handley, chairman of FFA, warned blockades could form again. Speaking from the blockade near Bridgwater, Mr Handley told the BBC that if the financial situation for farmers continues then they could be forced to make the "ultimate sacrifice" and cut off the milk supply at source, keeping it on the farms. Mr Handley said: "These people have got greedy, and they have squeezed us and squeezed us to the point we have got to. We have got to fight for the industry because if we don't the industry is going to go."

Mr Handley said there were around 550 farmers and 120 tractors between the Bridgwater plant and a nearby Morrisons supermarket distribution centre.

Andrew Hemming, vice-chairman of FFA, said he and about 400 farmers gathered outside the Arla plant in Ashby. He said: "We've had a lot of support, not just from FFA members but a lot of other farmers too. It just shows the strength of feeling there is."

National Farmers Union dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond told MPs this week that farmers "will not have the heart to go into the winter" if milk prices stay where they are. The latest cuts will see farmers paid around 25p a litre for milk, but Mr Raymond said the cost of production was 29p a litre, meaning a sale price of 29.5p was the minimum they needed to remain viable.

A spokesman for Robert Wiseman Dairies said: "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 important to stress we are not in a position to fund a milk price at the level it was prior to the global collapse in the value of cream. 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."

Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have stepped into the debate and urged the public to boycott some supermarkets over cuts to the price of milk. In a letter to The Times, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall said it was "shocking" that many dairy farmers were to be paid less for their milk than it costs them to produce it, adding that the industry was becoming "unviable".

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