Coronavirus: NFU holds dairy sector crisis meeting with government

NFU President Minette Batters led 'robust and frank' exchanges with government on the situation facing dairy farmers
NFU President Minette Batters led 'robust and frank' exchanges with government on the situation facing dairy farmers

The NFU has laid down key asks of government following a crisis meeting which set out measures to avoid a 'national catastrophe' in British dairying.

NFU President Minette Batters and national dairy board chairman Michael Oakes met with over 30 MPs ealier today (15 April).

They highlighted the need for an approach to avoid instability of the supply of milk to the public in the short term and irreparable damage to the milk supply chain in the long term.

The survival of many dairy farming businesses hit by Covid-19 depends on 'urgent action' from the government, the union said.

The outbreak has seen the almost complete loss of the food service and hospitality markets, as well as increasing price volatility in global markets which has left farms and processors under pressure.

This has led to some dairy farmers with no other option but to dispose of milk on farm.

Speaking after the crisis meeting, Mrs Batters said the government needs to act now to prevent a 'catastrophe' in rural Britain.

“The UK dairy industry is an iconic part of our food supply chain playing a key role in the national effort while Covid-19 ravages the country," she said.

"It faces unprecedented disruption in the short term because it cannot furlough its dairy cows, and its farmers cannot make use of the considerable Treasury support measures like other sectors of the economy.

"The modest interventions we have outlined today will ensure that we continue to supply the country in the short term while maintaining the productive capacity of this most iconic of sectors post-lockdown.”

The NFU used the meeting to call for a similar scheme to the Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme, which provides businesses in the retail sector with a grant of up to £25,000.

Defra must also convene a ‘Supply and Demand Management’ roundtable under competition law exemptions to maximise the flow of available milk through the supply chain.

Mr Oakes added: “We also need government to act on our proposals to help deliver a national production reduction scheme and engage the EU Commission to access market support measures.”

There may be at least 2,000 dairy farmers suffering severe financial pressure, the NFU believes, and that number could be growing by the day.

It comes as the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) called on the government to help fund a short-term financial support scheme.

It is thought about 300 dairy farmers will be eligible for reimbursement if the scheme is approved, equating to about one million litres of milk being produced a day.