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Vol. 76/No. 29      August 6, 2012

UK dairy farmers protest
squeeze from cuts in prices
LONDON—More than 2,000 dairy farmers rallied here July 11 to protest cuts in the price the big capitalist dairies pay them for milk.

“The clock is ticking,” David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Action, told the meeting to loud applause. “August 1—if nothing is done by then we’ll have no option but to show them what we’re capable of.” A second round of price cuts is set to take effect on that date.

The meeting was jointly organized by the National Farmers’ Union, including its chapters in Wales and Scotland, the Tenant Farmers Association and Farmers for Action.

The Militant interviewed a half dozen farmers at the rally.

“We took a cut of 2 pence a liter and then a further 1.7 pence a liter,” Simon Scott told the Militant. Scott has 200 cows in Brinkworth Chippenham and supplies the First Milk processor. (1 pence =US 1.5 cents)

The price cut by the big dairies tightens the squeeze especially on working farmers, who are locked into long-term contracts that allow the processors to change the price paid on short notice. “Our production costs are at least 29 pence, but we’re only getting 25 pence a liter,” said Gary Fisher from Ashmonsworth, Newbury.

“At least 30 percent of my costs are animal feed,” said Chris Spiby, from Sidlesham in West Sussex. “We need a price that covers our costs of production—it should be at least 30 pence a liter.”

“The soya we feed cows has gone up 40 percent in the past few months,” added Bill Turner from Yeovil.

“We have no bargaining power. The processors and supermarkets dictate the contracts to maintain their profit margins,” said Cornwall farmer Ross Symons, 24.

United Kingdom Minister of State for Agriculture and Food James Paice addressed the meeting, claiming the government was powerless to intervene in the market. He was jeered when he lectured farmers on “cutting costs.”

Surrey farmer and Farmers for Action leader Youleitte Parkes responded to Paice from the floor. “You come up with the same obstacles all the time,” she said. “Dairy farmers are not the problem. We work our butts off and then companies put us down. The problem is the retailers push the processors and they push the farmers. We’re at the bottom of the chain.”

“Before I was struggling to break even,” Tom Holland from Derbyshire, told the Militant. “Now we could go under.”

The Daily Telegraph estimates that 200 dairy farmers in England and Wales have quit farming in the past year. Over the last decade supermarket chains have steeply increased the percentage they get from the sale of milk at the expense of farmers.

Since July 19 hundreds of farmers have carried out protest blockades of dairy processors in Somerset, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Leicestershire and Yorkshire.

Tony Hunt contributed to this article.
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