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Vol. 72/No. 38      September 29, 2008

UK farmers protest low
pay for milk contracts
LONDON—Thirty-five farmers demonstrated at the headquarters of the Tesco supermarket chain in Cheshunt, Hertforshire, August 26 with a large banner that read, “We can’t afford to feed you anymore.” Organized by Farmers For Action (FFA), the event drew participants from across the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

Farmers held placards saying, “No to farmers subsidizing price wars” and “No more signing under cost of production contracts.”

James Watson, who farms 300 acres in Stranraer, Scotland, left other family members to milk his cows so he could take part in the protest. He estimates that “30 dairy farmers a month are quitting, because they cannot make a living. Supermarkets like Tesco show us total disregard.”

A report published in the Daily Telegraph noted that farmers lose on average 4.7 pence [1 pence = US$0.08] on every liter of milk they produce. ”We have had to absorb the rising costs of fertilizer, fuel, and animal feed,” said Youleite Parkes, who farms near Reigate in Surrey. “Supermarkets will pay 30 pence a liter to those with larger farms who can supply over a million liters of milk, but farmers like us will only get 25 to 27 pence per liter.”

One placard read, “No to signing intrusive contracts.” David Handley, chairman of FFA, said that the supermarket was forcing farmers to sign contracts that “disclose personal borrowings, drawings, and interest rate charges.”

Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) from the Republic of Ireland, said that “the intrusive contracts they are introducing today in the UK they will bring in tomorrow in Ireland.”

“In 1973 beef farmers got 75 percent of the price in the shops of what they produced, today its down to 33 percent,” Punch added. “In the past, farmers went part time and got jobs in construction to make ends meet, but now the construction boom in Ireland is over. There is nowhere to go.”

ICSA president Malcolm Thompson said, “I don’t see Tesco offering open and transparent information on how much margin they are making on farm products such as milk, beef, or lamb. They want to see who is less productive and see who is making a living so that they reduce us all to a meager existence. Farmers mustn’t allow themselves to be intimidated, we need to stand together.”

The farmers’ action follows intensifying competition between supermarket chains over milk prices. Tesco has just reduced the price of its “Fresh ‘n’ lo” brand. It receives this milk from Wiseman’s dairies, which pays farmers less than Tesco. Doris Robertson, who farms just south of Glasgow, Scotland, told this reporter that a small dairy she supplies said it would reduce the price that it pays farmers to compete with the supermarkets.
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