Friday, 6 July 2012

Fair Price for Dairy Farmers

I don't know if you heard about the unhappy dairy farmers on the news this morning.

Dairycrest, among others, is planning to cut the price they are paying the farmers for their milk. Robert Wiseman is another of the dairies announcing cuts. I believe Asda and Morrisons were mentioned as supermarkets not paying a fair price to dairy farmers.

(Co-op are supplied by Robert Wiseman dairy, who have dropped the price they pay, but Co-op say they've upped their premium per litre to compensate. I'm still finding what price per litre the farmers actually get.)

For small farmers this could be a disaster, shaving £10,000 or £20,000 pounds off an already tight budget, yet for most of us it would only mean the difference of a few pence a week if we drink a pint a day, a bit more if we use more.

The National Farmers Union says it costs more than 30p a litre to produce milk, and of course processors and retailers will be adding their cut, so cheap milk means dairy farmers are being short-changed. It seems milk is expensive to produce, but we don't value it highly enough.

Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose were all said to be paying dairy farmers a reasonable price for their milk.

This article is from the Grocer magazine yesterday and this one is from the Guardian.

The Farmers' Weekly have also written a report of this story.

This article from April  refers to an earlier cut in price and farmers' response.

So I would like to urge you to write a similar e-mail or letter to whoever supplies your milk to the one I have written to Dairycrest (see below) if they are not paying dairy farmers a fair price or are planning to cut what they pay, and to buy your milk from Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco or Waitros, or even better, a local farm.

I thought it was a good idea to support my local milkman and I like having my milk in glass bottles, but I will be changing my milk-buying habits at the beginning of August if I am not convinced that the money I pay Dairycrest for the milk they deliver to me represents a fair price to the farmers who produce it.

My e-mail to Dairycrest:

Dear Dairycrest,

I have a regular delivery of milk from one of your milkmen and have been very happy with the service, however I was appalled to hear on the news this morning that you plan to pay two pence a litre less for milk, the second cut in less than six months.

I believe that dairy farmers should be paid a fair price and am happy to pay more for my milk if the extra money goes to hard-pressed dairy farmers.

I do not want to see more mega dairies. I believe it is important to support the smaller-scale dairy farmers we already have for the sake of the environment, which in turn effects our own well-being, as well as for the sake of common decency: I believe people should be put before excessive profits.

If you have not changed your mind about this cut in price by the end of the month I shall be buying my milk from other, more responsible suppliers. I refuse to collude with you in your careless disregard of the well-being of dairy farmers.

Yours . . . .


To their credit Dairycrest have responded very promptly:

Good Morning **********

Thank you for contacting us to express your concerns.

Dairy Crest is the UK’s leading chilled dairy foods company and, as such, we use over 2 billion litres of raw milk every year.  We grew out of the Milk Marketing Board whose membership consisted of farmers and we are proud of this dairy heritage and our links to the countryside.  We aim to pay fair, market-related milk prices and when we can pay a premium we do so.

In Devon and Cornwall, for instance, suppliers to our Davidstow creamery (where Cathedral City and Davidstow cheeses are made) receive a price premium.  We also operate “milk pools” - groups of farmers who supply some of the major supermarkets.

After a strong year for milk prices in 2011, we were very disappointed to have to reduce the price we pay our farmers.  We delayed this decision for as long as we could. We know that milk production costs remain high and that this will be a blow to those of our farmers who are affected. However, the market pressure on our business has left us no alternative.

We certainly haven’t taken this decision lightly and have considered all other options. We have undertaken a thorough review of our selling prices and our customer base and we have also cut our own costs.  The tough decision to consider closing two of our dairies as well as making reductions in depot and head office jobs demonstrates this. We are extremely proud to be a British company buying British milk from high quality, professional dairy farms.

Kind Regards
Wendy Cruickshanks
Dairy Crest Consumer Careline Advisor

Here is the recent news that the milk plant in Aintree is to close.

Looks like those of us buying milk from low paying  retailers might not be able to buy milk from 1st August if they don't up their prices!  See here Farmers for Action website

Milk production in this country seems to be really struggling at the moment.  Is this down to competition from cheap imports? If this is a factor, is it the only one?   As a nation are we consuming less milk and dairy products?  Are there other reasons?  What can be done about it?

I would like to find out.  I've written back to Dairycrest with more questions and I've written to my MP,  Jeremy Hunt.  I await their responses.

Do you have any ideas about the cause of the problem and/or the solution?


  1. The other day I was shopping for a PTA event for 300 people. The school has v little money but I still picked out the organic milk option. I then had a 10 min internal dialogue about why this was the better option, despite the greater expense. Sometimes doing the right thing is very anti-intuitive, but I will write the letter you suggest. Good idea! Nicola

    1. Yes, Nicola, the organic option is better for the environment and the cows and is certainly dearer, but I'm wondering if the farmers are better off as a result. I do hope so. I might ask that as a supplementary question.

      I agree, it does seem to go against what I was taught about thrift and managing money well to buy the dearer option, but it is only dearer in financial terms. There is often a huge cost of some kind involved with cheap food and other 'bargains'.

      I'll be interested to know what response you get to your letter.

  2. hmm they've bigged themselves up in that reply haven't they?
    mainly for nostalgia as my Pa was a milkman, I've always had milk delivered to my doorstep:
    the local provider here happens to be Dairy Crest but I shall definitely be writing to them to ask why they feel the need to cut the price per litre to farmers instead of taking a hit on profits:
    if the big supermarkets can do it then they should too surely?

    1. I do wonder if they have greedy shareholders, chocolate girl, but they are also closing down plants. There does seem to be a wider problem with milk and I suspect cheap imports and people drinking less milk and cream might be factors. We also hear about traders gambling with commodities, which causes big problems in some markets. Don't know if this is happening with milk.


All relevant comments to this post are welcome, so feel free to have your say.