West Sussex dairy farmers call for fairer milk prices

East Dean farmers John Holt, daughter Jo North,  herdsman Iain Todd and stockman Stuart Collings after gaining a national award
East Dean farmers John Holt, daughter Jo North, herdsman Iain Todd and stockman Stuart Collings after gaining a national award

THE FINANCIAL pressure on dairy farmers has never been higher.

A war on low milk prices among the supermarkets has wiped millions of pounds off the industry and many farmers are now being paid significantly less per pint then it costs to produce.

Dairy farmers Chris and Caroline Spiby with their son Joshua at Chalder Farm in Sidlesham

Dairy farmers Chris and Caroline Spiby with their son Joshua at Chalder Farm in Sidlesham

Farmers’ unions have warned their members are being driven out of business and protests have included cows being walked through shops, ‘milk bucket challenges’ and shelves being cleared.

There is a rich history of dairy farming in the area, where farmers have warned the value of milk has never been so low and expressed their fears for the future if rock-bottom prices continue.

The Spiby family have been producing milk at Chalder Farm in Sidlesham for 40 years. Seven years ago they diversified into premium ice cream under the name Caroline’s Dairy, though 99.5 per cent of all their produce is still sold as milk.

Chris Spiby said: “My wife Caroline started producing ice cream in 2008 because we had been getting paid a low price for milk for two years.

Cows being milked at Chalder Farm. The 500 dairy cows roam free, but there is a warning that a move to industrial-style farms could see them stay indoors

Cows being milked at Chalder Farm. The 500 dairy cows roam free, but there is a warning that a move to industrial-style farms could see them stay indoors

“She’s doing extremely well and has lots of customers, but only half a per cent of all the milk we make goes into ice cream so it’s a very small amount.

“About 70 per cent goes to Marks & Spencers for liquid milk and the rest goes into the standard liquid market which is just disastrous at the moment.”

Chris said it costs his farm between 
28p and 30p to produce a litre of milk. M&S pay 32p, which he called a 
‘realistic price’ due to the company’s Milk Pledge, while many supermarkets now pay 20p as standard.

“We are extremely lucky to have the M&S contract but the many families who are paid just 20p a litre for all their milk are completely desperate,” Chris said.

“It’s well below the cost of production and consistently cheaper than bottled water. The prices are the worst I’ve known for 25 years and it’s wiped millions off the liquid milk market.”

Describing it as ‘the perfect storm’, Chris said that as well as the fundamental problem of the big supermarkets following the discount stores in slashing the price of a pint to as low as 45p, the strength of the pound compared to the euro made exporting tough, while there was a global over-supply in part caused by falling demand in China.

“But in the UK we are barely self-sufficient in liquid milk so if the prices on the shelf stayed stable we wouldn’t have these problems,” Chris added. “It’s that simple really and we know people are happy to pay a bit more for their milk.

“It’s unsustainable at the moment, there’s no future for a lot of farmers which is why many are forced to sell up.”

The 500 dairy cows at Chalder Farm are free to graze the meadows of the Pagham Nature Reserve, helping to create crucial symbiosis to the land.

But Chris warned that many small farms would be ‘swallowed up’ by 
larger farms, where herds are kept inside 24 hours a day to keep costs low.

WHAT DO SUPERMARKETS PAY FOR MILK?

While some of the big supermarkets guarantee a fixed price for milk, other chains which do not have been targeted by angry farmers up and down the country.

Morrisons has been firmly in the firing line, as along with Asda, Aldi and Lidl, the Bradford-based company has so far failed to guarantee the amount it pays will be enough to meet production costs.

Farmers’ unions have organised a number of protests at Morrisons stores which have included ‘trolley dash’ shelf clearances and cows being walked through its supermarkets.

More than 600 farmers also turned up to block

the roads outside Morrisons’ distribution centres recently and

the unions have promised to direct their anger

at other companies.

A Morrisons’ spokesman said: “We recognise that the current issue is being caused by a reduction in global demand for milk that has led to an oversupply in the UK and very difficult conditions for many dairy farmers.”

Now Morrisons’ bosses have agreed to meet with dairy farmers to discuss the price it pays for milk ahead of calls for shoppers to boycott its stores.

Rivals Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Marks & Spencers all guarantee they will pay farmers at least the cost of production for milk.

Tesco currently pays British dairy farmers 30.93 per litre for milk.

A spokesperson said: “We are proud of what we have achieved with our dairy farmers through the TSDG (Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group) since its inception in 2007, including consistently paying one of the highest prices in the industry for our milk.

“Over the past eight years we have worked in partnership with our dairy farmers to provide the best quality milk possible for our customers, while still paying a fair price for the milk we buy.”

FAIRER PRICE IS NEEDED

An award-winning farmer is calling for supermarkets to pay a fairer price for milk.

John Holt and his family run Droke Farm in East Dean.

Mr Holt – a third generation farmer who now works

alongside his son – has been supplying Tesco with milk for several years.

Formerly crowned Farm of the Year by Tesco, two years ago Mr Holt became a member of the Arla Cooperative.

Made up of some 13,500 dairy farmers, the company supplies dairy products to major retailers.

However, Mr Holt said he is now paid less for his milk because he is no longer supplying directly to Tesco.

“I don’t get the paid the Tesco price directly, the milk price goes across all Arla members.

“I decided to join Arla two years ago because I thought

it would be a good thing in the long term.

“It still is, but we have to stick with it.”

Mr Holt gets paid 23p a litre

for his milk – but he used to get 30p a litre.

“The issue is not at all with Tesco – it’s a three way contract - they pay Arla, Arla pay me.

“Arla is a Europe-wide co-operative and there are a lot of farmers for the money to be shared between.

“As I see it, it’s a global issue.”

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