The UK’s largest dairy company this week withheld payments to farmers following a crash in the price of milk.
First Milk, a co-operative owned by British farmers, has said it will delay payments to farmers by two weeks following a year of “volatility”.
The National Farmers’ Union has said some farmers are now receiving just 20p (26c) per litre for milk, the lowest price since 2007, as milk becomes cheaper than mineral water in some supermarkets.
In the House of Lords peers from across the chamber called on the Government to help support dairy farmers.
Tory Baroness O’Cathain, a former MD of the Milk Marketing Board, said: “The number of dairy farmers has reduced 30,000 about 15 years ago to 10,000 now and it seems people are giving up.”
She demanded: “Can we not impress upon the Treasury and particularly the retailers who instead of having five private planes in one of our leading retailers would actually consider the future part of agriculture in terms of food supply to them in this country?”
Environment minister Lord de Mauley told peers: “We share farmers’ concerns over the pressures on milk prices caused by the volatility of the global market and we are working closely with industry.
“It is important to remember that the long term prospects are good with exports at record levels.
“We are helping the dairy industry take advantage of opportunities such as opening new export markets and pushing for better country of origin labelling for British products.”
He said farms minister George Eustice yesterday held a “farming resilience summit”.
Lord Trees, a leading vet and independent crossbench peer, said voluntary codes from supermarkets such as Tesco only applied to a minority of dairy farmers.
“Is there not a case for extending the Groceries Code to primary producers of such vital products as milk because most dairy farmers are not protected under the code because they do not directly supply retailers, they supply processors?” he asked.
Lord de Mauley said the scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator had been established after the Competition Commission found the most significant problems in the area were experienced by direct suppliers to supermarkets.
He said any change would require new legislation and it was a “bit premature to take the next step” as there would be a review of its operation next year.
Lord Curry of Kirkharle, a farmer and crossbench peer, said: “The Irish government I understand have introduced five-year tax averaging for businesses and this has existed in Denmark for some time.” He asked whether the Government could consider a similar scheme.