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Stephen Jardine: We can all help dairy farmers

Published: August 14, 2015

When it came time for a white knight to ride to the rescue of dairy farmers, no one expected it to be Morrisons. The embattled supermarket chain has reported its worst annual results in eight years, with profits down 50 per cent. Given that nightmare scenario, why should they care about moaning milk producers?

Their perilous trading situation is exactly why Morrisons has had to care and create a new brand which will pay 10p a litre direct to dairy farmers.

No supermarket has suffered more than Morrisons from the rise of discounters like Aldi and Lidl. So it was adding insult to injury to be classed alongside them as the multiple retailers doing the least for dairy farmers.

The launch of the new milk brand is a smart piece of footwork to get them from bogey man to hero in one easy step. With Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose already implementing fair trade deals for farmers, it leaves just a few big names on the dark side. And dark it really is.

Scotland’s dairy farmers are facing an unprecedented crisis with the rate they receive for their milk hitting an all-time low.

This summer the average UK farm gate price reached a rock bottom 23p a litre for milk it costs 32p to produce.

It’s not hard to see why half of Britain’s dairy farmers have gone out of business in the past decade, with the number under 10,000 for the first time.

The origins of the problem lie in excess worldwide supply of milk and import bans introduced by Russia. But the main blame lies with supermarkets who have made bread, milk and booze key battlegrounds in their fight for market share.

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The only way to get the price of milk down for consumers is to accept lower profit margins or squeeze the dairy farmers until they squeak. Not known for their generosity of spirit, some of the supermarkets have been happy to turn the screw on the milk producers.

Other have taken a different approach, putting in place fair price deals and Morrisons have now joined the ranks of the good guys.

So what can you do to influence this crisis in the dairy industry? You have more influence than you might think.

The retail giants use cheap milk to lure us in store in the hope we will then spend more. However, more than half Britain’s consumers say they would rather pay more for milk if it meant dairy farmers having a secure future.

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Supermarkets can either listen to their consumers and increase the price they pay to have milk on the shelves or they can keep on using it as a weapon in a price war without any regard for the consequences.

If you care about the livelihoods of Scottish dairy farmers and want to see neat fields of Scottish dairy cattle in the future, the power lies in your purse or wallet.

Stephen Jardine is a journalist and presenter and has previously worked for Scottish Television, GMTV and Radio Tay. He now writes a weekly food column for the Scotsman.

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