Milk prices may force Garstang farmer to quit

Milk Trolley Challenge by disgruntled Lancashire dairy farmers at the Asda store in Blackpool. Organisers Jack Raby, left Harry Meadows and Robert Mason.  Picture by Paul Heyes, Saturday August 08, 2015.
Milk Trolley Challenge by disgruntled Lancashire dairy farmers at the Asda store in Blackpool. Organisers Jack Raby, left Harry Meadows and Robert Mason. Picture by Paul Heyes, Saturday August 08, 2015.

A Garstang farmer fears for his livelihood if protests in supermarkets over milk don’t force a change to pricing policies.

Robert Mason says his farm is losing nearly £450 a day compared to other Lancashire farmers selling milk, and further ‘Milk Trolley challenge’ protests are “inevitable”.

We just want a fair price for the milk we sell and at the moment we’re not getting anywhere near that

Robert Mason

That’s despite supermarket chain Morrisons now agreeing to launch a new, more expensive, milk brand with an extra 10p extra a litre going to dairy farmers, after a meeting in Bradford with Farmers For Action yesterday.

Mr Mason says he thinks people will pay extra to support dairy farmers, after speaking to people at a protest in Preston last week, in which he and 50 other farmers targeted three supermarkets.

In objection to falling prices, the protesters cleared the shelves of milk and either abandoned it at the tills or paid for it and handed it out free outside to shoppers.

Mr Mason says yesterday’s Morrisons announcement was a welcome change, but they need similar action from other major supermarkets, or he faces the tough decision of leaving the farming industry.

He said: “We just want a fair price for the milk we sell and at the moment we’re not getting anywhere near that. It costs us 28p to produce a litre of milk a day and from some supermarkets we’re only receiving 18p. It’s completely unfair. Hundreds of farmers across Lancashire are being short-changed and families are suffering because of it.”

Mr Mason, 25, works on a farm near Garstang, which he asked not to be named in case he loses his selling contract, and lives at his home nearby with his fiancé and 15-month-old daughter.

He said: “We plan to get married next year, but because I earn so little we’ve had to cancel any plans for a honeymoon so we can afford to live.

“Myself and other farmers work over 100 hours a week to provide milk to the nation and all we want is for supermarkets to give us a little extra. If they sold the milk for an average of 5p more a carton we’d be in a great situation and would be able to afford to improve our farms and the way we live.”

Mr Mason co-organised the Preston protests, as well as last weekend’s Blackpool protest in which 30 farmers cleared the shelves of milk in the local Asda, before speaking to the public about why the protests were taking place.

Mr Mason said: “It’s inevitable these protests will continue until there is action taken over the amount we’re paid. I’ve had to seriously consider whether to continue as a farmer over the last few years so hopefully supermarkets will change their stance soon.”

The new brand ‘Morrisons Milk for Farmers’ will go into all stores in the autumn. It is aimed at shoppers who want to directly support dairy farmers and will sit alongside Morrisons’ standard-priced own brand milk in the dairy aisle.

Morrisons corporate services director Martyn Jones said: “We will be launching a milk brand that allows customers to pay a little more if they want to support British farmers.

“Consumers can choose whether they want to pay more to support British dairy.

“A recent survey found that more than half of customers said they would be willing to do so.”

Asked if farmers’ protests against retailers and supermarkets would continue, David Handley of Farmers For Action said direct action would be maintained - although not against Morrisons.

The four main farming unions, the NFU, the NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union, held an emergency summit in London on Monday to develop an action plan to tackle falling milk, lamb and arable prices.