As the dairy crisis deepened, farmers who fear for their livelihoods were hoping surprise milk protests held at a number of supermarkets last week will force major food retailers to have a re-think and pay them a fairer price for milk.
Already, Morrisons, whose store on Preston Docks was targeted, has announced plans to launch a new milk brand in the autumn, where ten pence-per-litre of the retail price will go directly to dairy farmers. But it will sit alongside Morrisons standard-priced own brand milk in the dairy aisle.
The farmers’ protests had followed Arla, Britain’s biggest milk co-operative, announcing a price cut of 0.8p per litre - taking the standard litre price to 23.01p for UK members.
Farmers from the Longridge area joined the demonstrations at Asda, Fulwood, Morrisons and Aldi, Deepdale, clearing fridges of milk, abandoning some at the checkouts and paying for some, then distributing it to customers free of charge outside, and also asking for donations for charity.
Farmer Robert Mason, who co-organised the milk protests and lives and works in the Garstang area said: “We just want a fair price for the milk we sell and at the moment we’re not getting anywhere near that. It costs us 28p to produce a litre of milk a day and from some supermarkets we’re only receiving 18p. It’s completely unfair. Hundreds of farmers across Lancashire are being short-changed and families are suffering because of it.
“Myself and other farmers work over 100 hours a week to provide milk to the nation and all we want is for supermarkets to give us a little extra. If they sold the milk for an average of 5p more a carton we’d be in a great situation and would be able to afford to improve our farms and the way we live.”
Supermarket chain Booths launched a pioneering Fair Milk scheme last year, pledging to pay the highest market price to farmers. All own label milk at Booths is traded as “Fair Milk” and they have seen a 5% growth in the last four weeks. Chairman Edwin Booth said: “Paying the highest market price means family farms are able to keep going, invest in the future and spend more time and money looking after their herds to ensure they produce great quality milk.”
The Forshaw family have farmed at Alston, Longridge for almost 100 years, and now run a dairy herd of up to 400. Sons Stephen and Neil - with grandsons Stuart, Andrew and Sean - break even on milk sales by selling to their mother, yogurt producer Ann Forshaw for 33p a litre. The surplus goes to a Liverpool dairy for 22p a litre and Ann said: “If I was not buying milk from them, they would be in a really serious position but they are breaking even at the moment. Others now are really struggling.
Former dairy farmer from Longridge, Janet Wallbank, looks back to the days in the 1930’s before the Milk Marketing Board when the situation for farmers was the same.
She said: “When the MMB started, prices were not great but we never had a reduction - they never went backwards.
“Supermarkets should realise that farmers are working with perishables. It takes two years of rearing to produce milk which a supermarket keeps for two days in a no-loss situation.
“We really need a Milk Marketing Board to keep a basic price and control for our farmers.”