Farmers deserve more, much more, than this
It was only just over a year ago that the Government's farming minister – at the time the very decent but rather ill-starred Jim Paice – admitted that he didn't know the price of a pint of milk.
He was roundly lambasted for his ignorance but it's a fair assumption that many people would sympathise with him. And therein lies the root of the dairy farmers' most significant problem.
Milk is a staple; just about everybody buys it, and many of those who do are blind to the price of it. Furthermore, many supermarkets know that – and know it well – and ensure milk prices remain low to keep things just like that. For them, it helps maintain a competitive edge with customers.
For the West Country's hundreds of dairy farmers though, the economics are simply not stacking up. Hundreds have thrown in the towel and sold up, as we have had to report all too frequently in the Western Daily Press.
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Many others struggle manfully on, often selling milk at a loss, or if they are lucky, at a break-even price. Diversification and farm tourism businesses help them keep their heads above water – but their core business – producing the finest milk in the world to some of the very highest welfare standards – remains a struggle.
Their frustration is understandable and an oft heard complaint is that they feel their efforts are undervalued, and that they now operate within a market that does not work, and is, quite simply, unfair. Once again, farmers' frustration has spilled over into direct action and in a repeat of last year's blockades a number of farmers used tractors to block lorries entering and leaving the Morrisons distribution centre near Bridgwater on Thursday night.
Led by campaign group Farmers for Action, the protesters said higher returns – and the price of milk is higher than for some time – had been wiped out by increased production costs. It's a familiar and depressing tale.
Britain's farmers deserve better than this. They need understanding, not just from the supermarkets but from all of us. Society has to come to terms with the unfairness of the market in which they work.
That farmers – not a militant breed – are forced again to find militant means in an attempt to be heard is wrong. They are the beating heart of the rural economy and deserve more than just a fair price. They deserve all our support. And we should be prepared to pay a fair price in order to support them.