Michael Wale was at the ad hoc meeting of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee yesterday (July 17). He sent us the following report:
Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Mansel Raymond, who is chairman of the NFU’s Dairy Board appeared as farming’s representative before a House of Commons Select Committee yesterday ( Tuesday)
He answered questions put by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee together with a representative from milk processors Dairy Crest, and supermarket group Asda.
Mansel, who farms with his twin brother Meurig, on 3,400 acres of Pembrokeshire with two dairy herds totalling 620, told the committee that it cost farmers 30p a litre to produce milk and that most farms were losing an average of 5p every litre.
Beforehand Raymond told me that he had never known such anger among Welsh dairy farmers since the beef dispute at Fishguard in the 1970’s. Their anger was expressed at a mass meeting in London’s Central Methodist Hall a week ago when they heckled Agriculture Minister Jim Paice. As they pleaded for a new deal to protect them from further price cuts from processors who had already cut their payment to farms by 2p a litre and were threatening them with another 2p cut on August First.
Tonight (Wednesday) the protests move to Carmarthen, where Welsh Assembly Deputy Minister of Agriculture Alun Davies and local Plaid Cyrmru Assembly member Roderick Glyn Jones will address local dairy farmers.
Mansel told the committee :” We’re going to be down £50,000 on one farm and £60,000 down on the other. We did invest in new milking parlours five years ago and we are just paying that off this year. If it goes on like this we will have to consider getting rid of one person who is looking after the cows. The weather has been appalling, and the feed prices are going up all the time. The farmers would like to get a fairer deal through the supply chain. We’d like a voluntary agreement put in place but if that does not happen we want the Minister to bring in a legal agreement”.
He pointed out that British farmers’ competitors in Ireland, Holland and other European countries were earning up to 4p a litres more than British farmers.
Mike Sheldon for Dairy Crest said that they were willing to introduce a three month get out from contracts rather than the 12 month across the board agreement other processors demanded at present.
Paul Kelly, Director of External Affairs appeared for Asda and Mike Sheldon for Dairy Crest. Kelly came in for sharp criticism from Neil Parish, a former farmer and Conservative Member for Tiverton and Honiton who told him : “The supermarkets are screwing us into the ground. You helped to get us here in the first place”, reminding him how a few years back Asda had started a milk price war by selling milk hugely cheaper than anyone else. Kelly replied: “ I don’t accept that. We did take the price of milk down some years ago but did pay a premium to our own farmers. The consumption of milk has dropped 11% in the past 10 years. Children aren’t drinking milk, the processors must develop milk products that appeal to children.”
Asda came in for more criticism from the NFU yesterday (Tues) when they released posters proclaiming : “It’s Time To Back Our Dairy Farmers. It’s a shame ASDA, Morrisons and the Co-operative don’t.” As if to answer the poster Kelly told the Committee that from the day he was appearing before them ASDA had increased the premium they are paying their 272 farmers. Kelly said this was because they had been listening to them over the past ten days
Mansel Raymond told me later that the Welsh farmers involved with ASDA mainly farmed in mid-Wales.
Committee chairman Anne McIntosh, who had appeared briefly at last week’s 2,500 farmer protest in Westminster Central Hall to show her sympathy, said that a three and a half hour backbench debate about the dairy industry will take place in September.
Afterwards Mansel Raymond felt his appearance had been worthwhile. “It was getting our message across to politicians, and I was pleased to hear from the chairman that the committee would push to get a voluntary agreement with the processors before August 5. It’s the first step in the right direction”.