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Political action in the rural areas of India and Northern Ireland (UK)


For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).

In December he told’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:

“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.

“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.

Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus

An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed: 

“Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality”.

Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured.  Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.

Farmers organise politically in UK

As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.

Northern Ireland Farm Groups’ meeting

A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.

It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.

Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.

Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland. 

In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.




Stormont: reconvene and legislate on farmgate prices


Northern Ireland Farm Groups including Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA) and Farmers For Action (FFA) coming together on the issue of legislation on farm gate prices, released the following statement in August:

NI farm gate prices are by far the biggest issue for Northern Ireland farmers and the Northern Ireland economy, only followed by Brexit and the far from solved border issue for Ireland north and south.

Food Corporates and Co-op food processors face relentless farm gate price pressure actions continue to make the case for farm gate price legislation . . . It’s time for Stormont’s politicians to get back to work and prove they value Northern Ireland’s farming families and the top quality home grown food they produce, including their link to Northern Ireland’s prosperity. They must get back into Stormont and start processing the farm gate price legislation bill proposed by NI Farm Groups.

Every day Stormont doesn’t sit to act on this vital issue is costing Northern Ireland approximately £1million per day; this is made up of £280million inflation linked per annum on rural welfare support and jobs, according to the Gosling Report.  


Farmers For Action have now issued a message to dairy farmers considering term contracts for a large or small portion of their milk, summarised here:

William Taylor, FFA NI co-ordinator, states that “Across the main news we now find that the large food corporates are seeking to Brexit-proof food prices – roughly translated Brexit-proof their profits – and hold off their competition. How can it be right for dairy farmers or any other farmers to sign contracts that are grossly under the cost of production and not inflation linked, merely to facilitate food corporate profit taking.” He continues:

“Co-ops are going out and taking the business from the large food retailers and food wholesalers on mainly the lowest price basis to eliminate competition, then come back to the farmer for their profit . . .  This has to be wrong, in that it will never return sufficient money to the farmer members of any co-op.

“The job of a CEO of a dairy co-op is to employ good salesmen and implement a policy of selling a quality product time after time, build up a reputation for dependability and above all know when the market is saturated and when it is not, as is currently the case, and use this to advantage – always have a selling edge and always look for new outlets . . .

“Above all, in order to earn any credibility from their farmer member-owners, good co-ops should be able to sell milk above the price of bottled water and never be a bargain basement seller”.

Points to remember:

  • any contracts being currently touted in Northern Ireland must be checked legally; sign nothing without good legal advice.
  • remember, the true cost of production ‘without profit’ repeatedly coming back from Europe’s most efficient producers via European Milk Board is just over 40p/l.

William Taylor concluded, “Consider carefully before you sign your family into possible debt for the sake of food corporate and co-op profits with non-inflation linked under-the-cost-of-production contracts.

Legislation on farmgate prices across the staples is ultimately the answer and we are making progress!”

William Taylor

56 Cashel Road, Macosquin, Coleraine, BT51 4NU

Tel. 028 703 43419 / 07909744624



The full text of both messages will be emailed to anyone who would like to learn more – just ask using the comments mechanism.







Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.


A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Read on:




It’s good to be able to say “Hats off to DEFRA”!

. . . if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms

“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”

private-eye-logoThis passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.

lidwien_smitDr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.

She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries. 

In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.


Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.

The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.

defra-logoThe farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.

First published on another site:




Milk, fruit and vegetables will eventually be imported, unless British food producers are fairly paid

milk farmers leaveThough 80% of all milk produced in the UK is consumed domestically, the NFU attributes the fall in price to the sanctions on Russia and weakening demand in Asia.

The FT reports that Asda also justified the low prices paid to farmers saying they were set by global supply and demand.


First Milk, the farmer-owned group, one of the UK’s biggest dairy co-operatives, has suspended payments to around 1,200 farmers for two weeks. The company said that returns had fallen 50% in the past year and yet – the FT reports – farm costs are 36% higher than they were in 2007 and the single largest cost component of a dairy farm, animal feed, is more than 50% higher.

milk price fall                      Sources: Defra, DARD & DairyCo

A table from an 2007 overview: Snapshot of farming in the UK, on the BBC website (below), will be of interest to readers news to the subject. Recent price cuts mean that farmers are facing milk prices of just 20p a litre, the lowest since 2007 according to the NFU said, but the following graph indicates an earlier date.

milk prices graphmilk prices graph addendumMilk is now cheaper than bottled water, according to research by The Grocer, which recorded four-pint bottles of milk being sold for 89p by supermarkets Asda, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland.

‘Fiddling while Rome burns’, DEFRA promotes involvement with the volatile global casino: “It is important to remember that the long-term prospects are bright with exports at record levels.”


Is there any future for those who produce perishable food and are currently held to ransom – unless they join forces and demand prices covering production costs?

UK dairy farmer reflects: “the army of consultants and advisers can walk away leaving producers to pick up the financial pieces”


Coverage of advisers and consultants on this site to date has included posts called: Consultancies: a viral pandemic and The ultimate corporate-political nexus: McKinsey, ‘Jesuits of Capitalism’, and Her Majesty’s Government.


The dairy farmer remembers that Jim Begg, Dairy UK’s Director General, advised that the future for Dairy was bright. This encouraged many progressive family farmers to invest in the future of the UK Dairy Industry. They then found the rug pulled from under them as Mr Begg failed to encourage processors to invest in gaps in the UK market preferring instead to pocket producers’ income to cover weak selling and prop up their losses, steadily asset-stripping from efficient and well invested small and medium sized dairy farm businesses across the UK. This impacts heavily on the wider rural economy as farmers battle with cash flow, lacking reasonable income from the supply chain to pay essential bills and replace essential kit.

Though the market was in the producers’ favour, UK farm gate prices languished at the bottom of the European price league tables, while the fun-loving Mr Begg dallied in foreign places with his “European counterparts” who swiftly filled the gaps in our valuable market and have raced ahead of the UK globally. Has Mr Begg used cover of Dairy UK to hand UK dairy farmers business on a plate to Europe while ensuring his own “global” position advising an Australian organization similar to Dairy UK how to run their operations, and evaluating economic surveys for the worldwide dairy industry etc?

In an unstable supply chain where financial power leans heavily in one direction, and one maximises their margins by denying another other of income, the army of consultants and advisers can walk away leaving producers to pick up the financial pieces.

Retailers must pay a fair price for all their dairy produce with a fair amount passed back to producers

Mr Begg implies when considering regulation or free market, the priority is not ensuring sustainability but becoming rich. He also says we have to remain unswervingly with the focus that we are a consumer, and not a production, led industry.

We are neither. Uninformed consumers are led by extensive retailer PR into buying whatever retailers choose to supply them. Contrary to what we are led to believe, large retailers do not practice fair trade, and where the pied piper led, the unsuspecting willingly followed.

Farmers must specialise within the supply chain in looking after their animals and their farms and producing milk. Any value must be added by specialists at the processing stage, and the retailers must pay a fair price for all their dairy produce with a fair amount passed back to producers.

With Mr Begg at the helm, retailers will always manage to retain excessive margins

UK producers are seeing the worst farming conditions for many years, with appalling summer and autumn weather, milk yields and cull cow prices plummeting as winter feed supplies are scarce, prices are sky high, the suicide rate is the highest of any other sector, work related injuries have increased, and RABI reports steep rises in producers suffering financial difficulty with spiralling costs and cash flows under incredible pressure.

What became also of the cool, rational debate that Dairy UK talked of when Mr Begg’s resignation was called for? Like a true professional he laughed it off and ridiculed his critics in the same way he smiles yet throws his dummy out whenever anyone dares disagree with him.

Corporates control of the lucrative dairy supply chain; while publicly proclaiming support for UK dairy farming, retailers:
  • take advantage of voluntary adjudication,
  • threaten weaker processors with breach of contract as milk supplies plummet,
  • divide and rule producers,
  • and increase retail prices to consumers, fixing blame for the rises on UK producers while having paid no more for already contracted supplies and thus forcing another invisible cap on prices paid to non-aligned producers.

If steadfast UK non-aligned dairy farmers and smaller processors are forced out of business the corporates will have total control of the lucrative dairy supply chain and remaining “dedicated suppliers” will be left to face the inevitable squeeze. The milk that draws consumers will likely become a luxury item for most while available at a price, albeit still the lowest, in large supermarkets.

However much the public prefer celebrity to reality, and want high-welfare, well-maintained and professionally managed farms, it does not leave efficient non-aligned UK farmers on a level playing field with countries where production standards and major costs such as land, labour and energy may all be much lower, and it does not pay the bills.

Highly paid adviser runs no risk, unlike producers

Mr Begg, with no risk or financial investment required, commands a salary and lifestyle far removed from that of the producers he represents, often appears to undermine them and others who speak out in support of producers, in his weekly blog.

Collaboration seriously damaged the producers’ interests

He says collaboration, and not confrontation, will definitely win in the end, extolling the virtues of TV celebrity advice not to ‘fan the flames of controversy. But if producers and consumers had kept not their commanders and generals on their toes by gently fanning the flames of controversy in their direction, instead of allowing them to collaborate so brazenly with the giant corporates for so many years, we may not now be faced with the back draft that resolute UK dairy producers are now fire fighting.

The dairy farmer’s conclusion:

Continued support from the Dairy Coalition, the farming press, allied trades, other supporters like the WI, and outspoken individuals is vital if we are to beat the raging fire that threatens to destroy our UK dairy industry.

Will they be successfully undermined by those organisations or individuals like Mr Begg, Dairy UK, or Promar who may well have their own or conflicting interests uppermost?

In the interests of the country’s food security and the rural economy, we hope not.