NFU calls for crisis meeting as UK dairy faces 'severe financial pressure'

NFU President Minette Batters says 'immediate steps' are needed from Defra Secretary George Eustice to 'save UK’s iconic dairy sector' from the effects of Covid-19
NFU President Minette Batters says 'immediate steps' are needed from Defra Secretary George Eustice to 'save UK’s iconic dairy sector' from the effects of Covid-19

The NFU has called the government to a crisis meeting today looking at ways to save the UK's dairy sector from the effects of the coronavirus impact.

The survival of many British 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.

NFU President Minette Batters has urged Defra Secretary George Eustice to look at 'immediate steps' to ensure the sustainability of UK dairy.

Mrs Batters said the dire situation facing many UK dairy businesses is now becoming 'untenable'.

“For weeks now, we have been flagging to government in our daily calls the issues within the dairy sector and working with Defra to try and find solutions.

"Only four weeks ago all of this milk was being used, losing businesses at this stage will leave consumers reliant on convenience stores and other difficult to reach outlets not being able to have access to the same supply of milk," she said.

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.

"As things develop very few dairy businesses will be left unaffected," Mrs Batters said, "We need to move fast to mitigate the impacts of this unfolding crisis on dairy farming businesses across the country."

The union has called Mr Eustice to step in and take action or else 'iconic dairy businesses will go to the wall'.

One key issue is that dairy farmers or processors largely cannot access the Treasury schemes designed to help businesses through this crisis.

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes explained: “We cannot furlough staff or stop milking cows, and things like business rate holidays don’t apply to us.

"We need Defra and the Treasury to work together to extend these schemes so that they can be utilised by everyone in the dairy sector."

The NFU has called 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 - for farmers.

In other measures set out by the union, the government should talk with the EU Commission about schemes such as PSA, production reduction and market promotion to help restore confidence in the market and prevent adverse publicity related to disposal of milk.

All crown buying service contracts should make sure the NHS, military and prisons are all sourcing British milk, the NFU said, and government should also explore measures to inject cash into the sector via the 2020 BPS.

Lastly, the NFU said Defra should 'urgently convene' with key stakeholders and help manage flows of milk through the supply chain.

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.