For decades, milk producers have been calling for a rebalancing of risk and reward in their supply chain – a lobbying effort that led to last year’s 12-week national consultation seeking views on how dairy contracts and relationships could be improved, which generated a huge grassroots response calling for change.
As a direct result of that consultation, the UK Government and Devolved Administrations this week announced that they will now collaborate to develop a new statutory Code of Conduct for the sector, with both producers and processors at the table.
Last year, NFU Scotland’s milk committee chairman Gary Mitchell was instrumental in encouraging producers to respond to the consultation. This week he hailed the results as a ‘great milestone’ for both the dairy sector, and the rest of productive Scottish farming.
“First of all, I want to say a big thank you to all the Scottish dairy farmers who took the time to fill this in,” said Mr Mitchell.
“It’ll be at least 10 years we’ve spent getting to this point,” he noted, recalling that the sting in the tail of the previous voluntary code had been the promise that, if it didn’t work, a legislated code would be the next step.
“I am just delighted that this didn’t end up stuck in a cupboard somewhere – Brexit and Covid could have seen it kicked into the long grass – but the Government and devolved administrations have seen this through. I’d certainly credit George Eustice for his support here.
“All we want is a long term sustainable future for dairying,” he stressed. “I want Scottish dairy farmers to be able to produce milk in confidence and work with their processors without fear. The code has to help the whole sector. We all know processors are being squeezed as well.
“We are looking at a whole new world, with environmental requirements to the fore, so we need to go forward in stability and fairness, with the confidence to invest.”
Mr Mitchell added: “This is a great milestone, and not just for dairy farming. I’d like to see other sectors starting to look at how they sell their produce. If we can see that milk contracts can be agreed, not just pushed on us, why can’t other sectors follow suit?”
Defra Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis said: “This new Code of Conduct will crack down on unfair practices within the supply chain, supporting the dairy sector and ensuring that our dairy farmers remain competitive as they look to the future.”
Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “The dairy mandatory code of conduct consultation demonstrated that Scottish respondents were the strongest supporters of putting transparency into contracts to protect our farmers. We will now work to put together a new Code of Conduct which will increase transparency within the supply chain moving forward.”