Saturday, 13 December 2014

Dairy Farmers meet with Politicians, Rural Postal Services

Last evening the Farmer & I attended a meeting in Narberth arranged by Simon Hart MP to discuss the state of the dairy industry with Stephen Crabb, the Minister of State for Wales, Neil Parrish MP, chairman of the all-party group on the dairy industry & Andy Richardson, chairman of the review into Wales's dairy industry. About a 100 dairy farmers from Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion & Pembrokeshire attended.

With the price of milk falling all the time it is felt that politicians, retailers, milk buyers and producers need to work out a system by which there is a fair price for all, but more particularly for the producers. Some dairy farms are selling milk for less than their production costs and this is often due to the contracts that they are tied into. The supermarkets are also greatly at fault when they use milk as a loss leader eg. Morrisons selling 2 litres (3.5 pints) for 84p. It is outrageous. Consumers have become used to being able to buy milk at a very low price and for many producers there is almost no option but to leave the industry if prices continue to drop, particularly for smaller family farms with little capital to invest in expansion.
We are a small family dairy farm; we farm just over 200 acres and milk 50 cows. As organic producers we get a slightly higher price than conventional farms for our milk but the organic sector is affected by price drops and current politics in the milk industry the same as all dairy farmers.

In England and Wales there are now just under 10,000 dairy farms(Farmers Guardian this week) which is a drop of 20,000 in 20 years. In Scotland there are only 900 dairy farms.
In Wales dairy is one of the largest farming sectors, about 34% of agricultural production by value, twice as high as the rest of the UK.

There was lot of comment during the meeting on how the supermarkets and the consumers have no respect for food. There is so little understanding of how food is produced and the hard work that goes into putting a pint of milk on the supermarket shelf. Education is the key, of course. Schools should be teaching food...bring back home economics and domestic science into the curriculum, teaching students what food is, how it is produced and how to cook well.

The politicians are aware of how the dairy industry is enduring this time of low prices and it will be interesting to see what they can do improve the situation.
With general election coming up in just over 5 months time will the present government have any time to make any real changes?

Another issue that I have become aware of lately is the threat to postal services for those of us in rural areas as has been expressed by the FUW , the Farmer's Union of Wales.
The FUW says that there are concerns that changes to the postal sector with adversely affect Wales' rural communities.
Wales has about 42,000 agricultural holdings of which 20,000 are said to be significant. As farmers we are subject ot strict legal requirements covering animal welfare, identification, movements, feed & food production and land management. Apparently the documentation relating to these legislative requirements results in approximately 3,000 pages of information a year that has to come to the farm. Much of the notifications require responses with strict deadlines and major financial penalties if these deadlines are not met. Paper correspondence is still important even though much of the paperchase has gone online (and has become more complicated and inefficient as a result) and many areas of Wales have limited broadband coverage. The maintenance of postal deliveries six days a week is vitally bring us our 3,000 pieces of paper telling us what we can and cannot do on the farm, or else!

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