Farming

The (Un)Fair Price of Milk

A few weeks ago, I worked on an assignment for a French magazine, about the (un)fair price of milk affecting dairy farmers in the United Kingdom. I interviewed Abi Reader, a dynamic third-generation young dairy farmer, based in Wales. She owns 190 cows and has been able to avoid the impact of the dairy crisis, thanks to an “aligned contract” she signed with Sainsbury’s, seven years ago.

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Crédit: Farmers Weekly

Aligned contracts enable dairy farmers to sell their milk through a middleman to a supermarket retailer (like Tesco, Sainsbury or Marks and Spencer for example), at an agreed price. This way, dairy farmers are assured that they will not get paid a lower price than what it actually cost them to produce the milk. Let’s take Abi’s case: she is paid 29.3 pence a liter and her cost of production is currently about 27 pence. Meanwhile, dairy farmers without an aligned contract are paid between 24 pence, at best, and 16 pence a liter, at worst.

Unfortunately, aligned contracts are still quite rare. Only 15% of dairy farmers in the country benefit from one. “If I didn’t have a contract with a supermarket, right now, I would be doing something else. I wouldn’t be a dairy farmer anymore, that’s for sure !” Abi told me. In fact, this is exactly what happened to the Whistance family who owned a dairy farm in Hereford and was recently forced to sell their 500 cows because they could not make ends meet anymore.

This means that as consumers, we have a responsibility in making sure that farmers get paid a fair price for the milk they produce. No one should be paid less that what it costs them to produce what they are selling.

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Police officers are sprayed with milk by European milk farmers during a demonstration outside the European Parliament in Brussels. Credits: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / AP

Dairy farmers have been protesting in supermarkets for years by spilling liters of milk on the floor and bringing in their cows. They  regularly ask consumers not to buy milk at certain supermarkets like Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl or Asda who do not pay their farmers fair prices (recently, some of those supermarkets have been facing so much bad publicity that they tried to make small efforts but it is often still not enough). Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Marks and Spencer generally have better practices (cf. the M&S ‘Milk Pledge, Sainsbury Fair Price Milk, etc.).

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