Farmers claim their livelihoods are at threat over the cuts to milk prices.
They spoke out after carrying out protests at three Preston supermarkets, as part of a national wave of ‘milk trolley challenges’. And the young farmers have warned more protests are planned for other parts of Lancashire.
I’m the fourth generation on our family farm in Garstang, but if it carries on like this, we’ll be selling up.Robert Mason
Co-organiser Robert Mason, 25, said: “I’m the fourth generation on our family farm in Garstang, but if it carries on like this, we’ll be selling up.
“We’ve lost between 32 and 35 per cent of our income in the last year and it means we can’t invest or build up our business. People are having to sell stock and lay people off.
“Nationally four dairy farms a week have gone since January. Lancashire is still a big farming area, but it’s got to the stage where those farms with only 90 to 100 cows have all gone. It’s a case of get big or get out.
“We’ve tried going to authorities about this but we’ve got nowhere, so this is what we’ve been forced to do.”
Robert and friend Jack Raby, 23, who works on a farm in the Fylde, were inspired to organise the ‘challenges’ after seeing others in the south hit the national headlines.
The meet was arranged by phone and private social media messages on Tuesday morning, and within hours had attracted dozens of willing participants.
Robert, a father of one, added: “It went really well and we had more people join in than I expected. The average age of protestors was between 20 and 25, and that’s the future of farming.
“We all travelled by car and targeted the three supermarkets who pay the least for milk to make a point and to get our message out to the public.
“We had a very, very good response, with 98 per cent of the public behind us and some in Asda even abandoning their trolley-full of shopping and vowing never to return.
“We picked Preston first because it was close, but we’re going to be hitting other supermarkets in Blackpool and Lancaster soon.”
Worried staff at Aldi and Asda in Preston called the police when protestors entered their shops, but officers were not needed to take action.
A spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary said: “The protests were peaceful and no arrests were made. Officers attended merely to keep the peace and to ensure no offences were detected.”
After dumping the milk at the checkout at Morrisons and Aldi, protestors clubbed together to pay for the milk in Asda, which was then given out to customers free-of-charge in the car park. Donations of around £80 were then made to a charity supported by the in-store McDonalds.
Jack said: “We’re going to keep pushing with this, and hopefully we’ll be carrying out more challenges in days to come.
“We picked Preston first because it used to have a cattle market but doesn’t anymore, and that’s a sign of the times.
“It’s the hardest it’s been for years and I hope that people start to take notice now.
“Everyone’s blaming one another, or saying there’s an oversupply of milk in the market, but we need the supermarkets to put pressure on their buyers to increase the prices paid to farmers.
“It’s only a matter of four or five pence we’re asking for on a litre.”
An Arla spokesman said: “Arla is owned by 13,500 dairy farmers, 3,000 of whom are British. Therefore, we are acutely aware of the difficulties our farmer owners are facing at this difficult time.
“We are working independently with all our customers to support our farmer owners throughout this period of global market volatility.
“The situation is not helped by the fact that global milk production has consistently and continues to grow faster than global demand. These global developments are impacting all dairy markets throughout the world.
“It’s not a lack of effort or determination on Arla’s part; we are doing everything possible to help our farmer owners to navigate through this increasingly tough situation, in the best possible way.
“The pressures that our farmer owners are facing are not unique to Arla or to the UK dairy industry.”
A spokesman for Aldi said: “We purchase milk from three processors in the UK and do not buy directly from farmers. The price we pay from milk has remained consistently above the farm gate price and we have not reduced the amount we pay our processors.
“It is important to note that the retail price of our milk is not linked in any way to the price we pay processors. Any reduction in the retail price is absorbed by Aldi and is not passed on to our processors.
“As part of our commitment to the UK’s dairy industry, we only source milk from Red Tractor assured farms. All of our cream and butter products are produced using British milk and we are signatories of the NFU’s ‘Backing British Farming’ charter.”
Morrisons Group commercial director, Darren Blackhurst, said: “As a leading British retailer Morrisons is focused on delivering great value and we try to pass on lower prices to our customers wherever possible.
“We do recognise however, due to reduced global demand, that this has created an oversupply of British milk creating difficult conditions for many dairy farmers at present.
“At a constructive meeting on Wednesday with the NFU Dairy Board Chairman, we confirmed that Morrisons is not accepting any further cost price decreases from our suppliers driven by the falling farm gate milk price.”
Asda declined to comment.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “The market situation in dairy, lamb and many other products is driving farming families to a desperate state with returns from the market failing to cover costs of production.
“Farmers have worked very hard to gain the respect and support of the public for great British food - now farmers simply want and need a fair return for years’ of investment.
“Given the current situation some farmers have been driven to take direct action; the NFU supports protests that have a proper target and a clear objective.”