Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Newspaper column 12 August 2015 - Dairy farmers

The issue of falling milk prices and the impact this is having on our farmers has been in the media this week.

Whilst it is natural for us all to want to pay the lowest possible price for our food, it is important that we remember that often it is our farmers who bear the brunt of cutting the prices we all pay.

In the run up to the election I stated that I would actively support our local farming community. I have begun to do this by meeting with farmers and their representatives such as the National Farmers Union, both locally and in Westminster.  

On Monday this week I met with group of local dairy farmers and I was able to learn first hand the impact that these price reductions have on our local economy. 

They shared with me how tough it has been as the price of milk has dropped by 25% in the last year.  The price they are now being paid is below the cost of producing the milk. It is important to remember that all farmers are small businesses. No business can sustain receiving less than it costs to supply a product for very long.

The price reductions come against the background of the perception that dairy produce is unhealthy, a perception that has led to falling demand thereby increasing pressure on the industry.  The farmers also spoke of the challenges they face from imported dairy products, especially yogurt and cheese. 

Added to the issue of falling milk prices is the ever-present fear of bovine TB.  The cost financially and emotionally of living with the stress of continued testing and regularly seeing cattle destroyed as a result of TB adds to the challenges dairy farmers face.

Farming remains one of the cornerstones of the Cornish economy, we have a proud farming tradition and as a county we continue to contribute significantly to national food production.  As a nation we currently produce less than 70% of the food we need.

We cannot afford to continue to lose farmers and it is essential that we have a significant successful and sustainable farming sector. The Government is playing its part in reducing red tape and seeking to open up overseas markets for export.

But we can all do our part to support our local farmers by consciously trying to buy local.   Local produce is not always more expensive than supermarket alternatives, and is often of a much better quality.  It may not be always practical or possible to buy local, but where we can we should try to support our local producers and retailers.

As consumers it is difficult for us to always be certain of the origin of the goods we are buying.   Look out for the Red Tractor logo – Red Tractor is the largest food scheme in the UK, which covers all aspects of the food’s lifespan. The Red Tractor logo indicates that food is safe to eat, and has been produced responsibly - from farm to fork.

Whilst I am confident of a positive future for our dairy farmers in the long term, we need to do all we can to support them during this current crisis.