A coalition of farming groups has agreed a strategy aimed at saving the long term future of the British dairy industry.

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The Dairy Coalition agreed the plan after talks yesterday which follow weeks of controversy about the amount farmers are paid by food manufacturers and supermarkets for milk they produce.

The group is made up of National Farmers’ Union branches from England, Wales and Scotland, Farmers for Action, the Tenant Farmers Association, the Women’s Food and Farming Union and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers.

Speaking after the meeting, NFU dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond said: “The first priority of the Dairy Coalition of organisations is to see a fair and functioning market place for the UK dairy industry.

“We firmly believe that all farmers should receive a fair and sustainable milk price; one which at least covers their costs to produce milk. This is the only way we will be able to ensure shoppers have the choice of British dairy products on supermarket shelves.”

A price war has been raging between supermarkets in recent months which has seen stores offering milk to shoppers at ever dwindling shelf prices - most recently several sold it at four pints for a pound.

But farmers complained that instead of absorbing the loss, supermarkets have used their strong market position to demand ever cheaper prices from milk producers.

Meanwhile food manufacturers too have been accused of cutting the price of milk they buy in order to produce cheese, yoghurt and other items.

Progress has been made with manufactures agreeing to adhere to a draft code of practice, yet to be finalised. Meanwhile some supermarkets including Asda, the Co-op, Aldi and Morrisons have agreed to raise the premiums they pay farmers.

But while small price rises may help in the short term, the Dairy Coalition argues a fundamental change to the UK market is required to ensure UK dairy farming is profitable.

Their ten point strategy produced yesterday includes working to expose unfair practices and assisting farmers to join together to form ‘producer organisations’ which have more bargaining power than individual farms.

Meanwhile it also will see the coalition campaigning to promote British cheese and other dairy products to consumers and retailers in the domestic market and abroad.

Mr Raymond said that it was clear that up to now the dairy market had “failed” with highs not being passed on to farmers, while they were similarly expected to absorb losses during lows.

He went on: “I firmly believe the British dairy industry can have a very bright future. We need to have every part of the dairy market working to capture present and future market opportunities both here and abroad.

“We have a growing demand for fresh, British, quality dairy products from a growing world population and we must be in a place where we can respond.”

Norfolk dairy farmer William Brigham, who has 170 cows producing milk at a farm near Dereham, encouraged the coalition to push ahead with its strategy.

“I feel that the last few weeks have seen a bit of a watershed. The angry farmers that turned up to protests about this during the summer shocked the processors; I don’t think they realised just how angry people were,” he said.

“There has been a real determination to keep dairy farming in East Anglia too and eventually things are going to have change if the industry is to be retained. So the NFU and others in the coalition should keep going.”

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