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Neil Parish MP: How to help British dairy farmers

Conservative Dairy MeetingGroup photo taken in Westminster of some of the MPs who attended a meeting organised by Neil Parish, along with representatives from the NFU, Dairy UK.

1st Row, left to right: Rex Ward, Chairman of Diary UK's Farmer's Forum; Sheryll Murray MP; Neil Parish;Jim Begg, Director General, Dairy UK; Meurig Raymond, Deputy President of the NFU; Sarah Newton MP

2nd Row, right to left: Julie Girling MEP; Edward Timpson MP; Alun Cairns MP; Nicky Morgan MP; Mark Spencer MP; Huw Irranca-Davies MP

3rd Row, left to right: Sarah Wollaston MP; George Eustice MP; Peter Aldous MP; Simon Hart MP; Guto Bebb MP; David Jones MP

Neil Parish is Member Parliament for Tiverton and Honiton. He is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and Chairman of the 1922 Backbench Environment Policy Committee, which plays a significant role both in policy formation and acting as a channel of communication between backbenchers and ministers.

Before entering Parliament Neil was a farmer and Member of the European Parliament for the South West for ten years. During his ten years in the European Parliament Neil was the Conservative Spokesperson on Agriculture, Chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and was instrumental in setting up the yearlong European Parliament's public Inquiry into the Foot and Mouth Outbreak.

Dairy farmers are sighing a collective sigh of relief after Robert Wiseman Dairies became the last of the three largest milk processors in the UK to announce that they would reverse their planned cut in the price they pay dairy farmers for their milk.

Dairy Crest, Arla Food and Robert Wiseman Dairies had all planned to cut the milk price by 2 pence per litre (ppl) from the 1st August.

Had they not relented farmers would be losing up to 5p per litre from what they produce if and those farmers affected would have seen their incomes drop by 12% and with the industry already suffering from the downturn many dairy farmers are simply are getting out of the industry for good.

This reversal from the big processors also came hot on the tale of a draft agreement for a Voluntary Code of Practice between farmers and processors chaired by Jim Paice the Farming Minister. The voluntary code of practice would give farmers a break clause in their contracts, allowing them to give three months notice if they are unhappy with price changes.

This reversal was only brought about by the huge public outcry and the scrutiny this brought. On Wednesday 11th July 2,500 dairy farmers from across the country descended on the capital to protest the series of cuts made to the farmgate milk price. I spoke to many farmers who had come up to London from Devon who were devastated and quite simply not getting enough money to pay their bills.

On Monday 16th July I chaired a meeting of the 1922 Backbench Environment Policy Committee in Westminster Hall between Backbench Conservative MPs and Meurig Raymond, Deputy President of the NFU and Jim Begg, Director General of Dairy UK, the trade association representing the dairy supply chain. We were joined by Julie Girling MEP, who has recently taken on the role of Conservative Spokesperson on Agricultural in the European Parliament, a job I know she will excel in.

At one point we had 25 Conservative MPs in one room, so many in fact that we had to relocate to a larger venue. I believe that this is a testament to the strength of feeling amongst Members of Parliament over this threat to our dairy farmers and it also shows our resolve to find a solution.

However, despite this frustration there was a recognition that many of the problems experienced in the dairy industry comes from our position in what is now an international market place.

Milk prices across the globe are at an all time low. Since November last year milk prices have fallen in France from 33 cents to 29 cents and in Germany it has fallen from 37 cents to 30 cents. In this same time period milk prices in the United States have gone down 23 percent.

The global market will pick up again but price volatility in the global market is a constant that we must adapt to. That means making farming and the dairy industry more competitive through cutting regulation and reforming the Common Agricultural Policy.

The independent Task Force on Farming Regulation commissioned by the Government to look into ways to remove costly paperwork has made several recommendations to slash redtape, many of which are now being implemented. However, the Government must go further. In the seven months following the publication of the Task Force’s report Defra revoked 39 statutory instruments but introduced a further 41.

Farmers have to spend a great deal of their time filling and re-filling forms on everything to livestock movement to Nitrates Regulation. The direct cost of current regulation is upwards of £5 billion each year with over 50% of all Defra’s regulations come from the EU. Ultimately Defra must go further in cutting these barriers to growth domestically and give Parliament more scrutiny over EU regulations coming in.

Farmers are never going to get a good price whilst we flood the UK market with liquid milk. The majority of milk produced in this country is for the liquid milk market whilst only 49% goes into processed products like cheese and yogurt, far less than our European counterparts. If we are to increase demand domestically and increase our exports we must look beyond liquid milk and increase processed products like powdered milk and cheeses.

We must take advantage of emerging markets like the Middle East and China that are increasing their consumption of dairy products. Dairy products from France, Denmark and the Netherlands can be found to supermarkets from Ankara to Beijing whilst British produce, some of the finest in the world and produced to the highest animal welfare standards, is nowhere to be seen.

The UK currently has a £1.2 million trade deficit in dairy and of the 13,544 million litres of raw milk produced in this country in 2011, only 403 million was exported. China has a population 1.4 billion people, a huge market that the UK must access.

It is not until we see the bigger picture in the dairy industry that our dairy farmers will flourish. The Government has been successful in securing a multi-million pound deal with China to export breeding pigs. It is this sort of support that the Government must give to the dairy industry.

On the 13th September I will be holding a Westminster Hall Debate on the dairy industry where I hope to press the Government to go further and faster with its removal of wasteful redtape, take advantage of expanding overseas markets and ensure that the long awaited Groceries Code Adjudicator has enough teeth to take action against wrong doing and ensure compliance with the new Groceries Supply Code of Practice.


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