EUROPE – Farmers across the UK have followed French demonstrations by staging a series of protests showing dismay at the current state of farmgate prices.
Welsh sheep farmers have vowed not to sell lambs as part of “No Lamb Week” and dairy farmers across the UK are teaming up to buy shelf-loads of milk to give away free to shoppers.
They say current prices are unsustainable and are calling on the public to help their cause.
“Trolley dash” tactics have received national attention, while some farmers say ”No Lamb Week” is off message and could threaten prices further if a glut of lambs is marketed in the coming days.
Instead, some farmers have called for a “Buy Lamb Week” on social media.
Earlier, farmers in the Midlands delayed motorists with tractor convoys to flag attention to the dairy crisis.
Speaking to the BBC’s Farming Today programme, Oswestry farmer Mark Taylor said: “If we don’t take this opportunity now to explain to the general public who generally support farmers that we are in serious plight now – we won’t be here in the future.”
Unions representing farmers across Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland have been galvanised this week to call for a commitment to back British farming to solve a UK-wide problem.
Welsh farm spokesperson, Aled Jones, dairy board chairman of NFU Cymru, described a half day notice period from First Milk’s 0.5 ppl cut as “unacceptable”.
He said farms needed trust, transparency and good communication in a period of market uncertainty.
Politicians have acknowledged the plight of producers. Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead urged supermarkets “big and small” to support Scottish dairy farmers “in this time of need”.
A global downturn in dairy prices coupled with Russia’s ban on European produce is hurting farmers across Europe, according to analysts. A variety of produce including; fruit, vegetables, pork and cheese have had to find new markets.
This has been exacerbated by a strong sterling relative to the euro which has stunted British lamb sales.
Further pressure has been added to dairy producers this week in the form of more processor price cuts and a slump in the Global Dairy Trade Price Index, down 9.3 per cent.
Last month, French farmers took headlines with transport and supermarket blockades, still ongoing in some regions, culminating in French farmers hijacking a truck of Spanish pork last night near Toulouse.
According to the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA), the 25 tonnes shipment was passed to the government who then fed the meat to animals at a local zoo.
Spanish farming unions have expressed “strongest condemnation” against the actions and criticised French authorities for a “shocking abdication of responsibility”.
They are calling on the government to lift farm milk prices, saying: “If France can fix milk prices, any EU country must be able to”. The Coordinator of Organizations of Farmers and Ranchers (COAG) is demanding an average price guarantee of 34 cents per litre as the only measure that can save thousands of farms from closure.
In France, protests have resulted in the government mobilising banks to restructure farm loans and promise action on market function and prices. A €50 million relief fund has been set aside to ease interest on farm loans.
And measures at EU level have been welcomed by European farming union Copa-Cogeca, although it said more can still be done.
Copa President, Albert Jan Maat, said: “In the pigmeat sector, there is an extremely difficult situation, partly as a result of the Russian export restrictions which were imposed at the end of January 2014.
“In the milk sector, we also want the EU Commission to allow Member States to advance the direct payments before the 1st of December.
“Around €700 million will also be taken out of the dairy sector as a result of the 2014/2015 milk superlevy bill at a time when dairy farmers desperately need cash.
“This should therefore be returned to the sector to help farmers with their cash flow problems. The EU intervention price must also be increased to put a floor in the market. Last set in 2008, it is nowhere near production cost.”
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