'We'll fight for a better milk price'
DAIRY farmers who manned a four-hour blockade of a large depot belonging to the Morrisons supermarket chain in the Westcountry have vowed to continue the struggle for better payments.
The late-night picket by 200 farmers and farm workers disrupted lorry flow in and out of the giant warehouse beside the M5 near Bridgwater
The angry milk producers, members of the protest group Farmers For Action (FFA), used 20 tractors to block the distribution depot preventing milk lorries from leaving the site, beginning their unannounced action at 8.15pm and continuing to after midnight.
They claim that despite successful action over milk payments last year, spiralling costs continue to threaten their livelihoods – and Morrisons was not paying dairy processors enough to pass on sufficient payments for the raw product.
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FFA chairman David Handley said: "We've been told by the processors that the company is refusing to pay better prices and we want to give the company the chance to respond."
One of the problems was that Morrisons sourced its milk from a number of processing dairies – including Dairy Crest, Muller Wiseman and Arla Milk Link – and did not have a single dedicated supplier, he said.
Mr Handley, who now farms in Wales but originates from Camelford in North Cornwall, wrote to Morrisons stating it was "with deep regret" that the FFA was staging the protest.
He said: "We have been in discussion with them for the past two months. They need to become transparent in their dealings. But while some retailers are playing a dirty game, we don't think the processors are always straight with us.
"Two hundred farmers don't turn out with their tractors late at night for fun. It's not just bloody mindedness. We're doing this for all dairy producers because this situation can't carry on. Protest is not the way to run a dairy industry. By now we should have had a workable system."
Mr Handley said further action would be taken this weekend, but at another retailer's depot in the North of England.
Dairy UK, the trade association which represents milk processors, said blockading caused disruption and was: "not a sustainable way to take the industry forward."
A spokesman said: "That can only be achieved by progress in efficiency, consolidation, innovation and collaboration."
Farmers and processors were now working closer.
A Morrisons' spokesman said: "We buy the milk sold in our stores directly from a processor, who sets the price received by the farmers for each litre they produce. The increases we have made in the amount we pay to processors since last summer have resulted in a rise of more than 4p per litre for farmers, bringing milk prices to their highest level in recent years."