John Clark writes…
First published: July 2012 – Gazette & Herald
The Tories, New Labour, Liberal Democrats, the EU and the National Farmers Union all believe in the ‘market’. In the dairy industry the market has produced the following mess:
- The vast majority of dairy farmers are being paid less than the cost of production.
- Tory minister (Jim Paice) is saying that some people can still produce milk at a profit even at present prices.
- The NFU makes noises similar to those of the minister.
- Milk production is becoming more and more intensive – cows are being forced.
- Thousands of dairy farmers are being driven out of business.
A Russian poet once said that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. Equally, food production is far too important to be left to farmers. The public needs to be involved and decide along the following lines:
- Do we want agribusiness and intensive food production?
- Do we want the destruction of our small and family farms?
- Do we want our farmers to be paid less than the cost of production?
- Do we care about animal welfare and farming practices?
If we are concerned about these issues, what is needed?
Firstly there is a need for a guaranteed farmgate price. This must be above the cost of production and for an agreed amount of milk – say the highest annual liquid consumption plus a few percent. For older farmers these would obviously be set at the ‘Annual Price Review’.
All milk would be bought by a government body. The buying and selling of milk would be regulated. Supermarkets, processors and distributors would have their prices controlled. If a supermarket wished to have a ‘loss leader’ it would be their loss, no-one else’s. This organisation would obviously be called the Milk Marketing Board.
The EU and other Free Marketeers will all scream that this is anti-competitive, against EU rules etc. The response is simple. A free market is desirable when there is a large number of sellers and a large number of buyers. This is not the case with banks, the security industry or milk production. We all bailed out the banks and the state is covering for the shortfall in security for the Olympics. Controlling the marketing of milk will not be at a high cost. Money is already there but at present it does not reach the farmer.
A Milk Marketing Board could control a whole range of public and farmer concerns. The need for forcing production, ever increasing herd size, cutting corners, pushing family labour and selling milk ait less than the cost of production could all be brought to an end. I hope the current farmers’ action produces a few pence increase on a litre. This will of course help in the short term. It will not solve the problem on a permanent basis. The whole system needs changing. The result must deliver the changes listed above. Any solution must produce a stable industry and above all, the bullying must stop.