The Ulster Farmers’ Union attended a meeting, hosted by NFU Scotland, with representatives from the other UK Unions on Thursday 10th October to discuss the issues and uncertainty affecting the dairy sector throughout the four nations as a possible Brexit decision is looming.
UFU dairy policy chair Mervyn Gordon, met with NFU Scotland milk vice chair Gary Mitchell and policy manager Stuart Martin, NFU milk chair Michael Oakes and NFU Cymru milk chair Gareth Richards.
Included in the agenda for the meeting was the change in Red Tractor standards, current milk volumes, processing concerns, milk contracts and an update on Brexit from the UK union’s staff in Brussels.
The UFU indicated that the impending threat of Brexit has caused serious disruptions to the UK dairy sector; stifling trade, contributing to price fluctuations and keeping the milk contract debate on hold.
Although the UK is a net importer of dairy produce, the UK currently exports milk, cheese, cream, butter and milk powder equivalent to around 4bn litres, with 3.2bn litres of that going to the EU. The tariffs on dairy products to enter the EU from third countries are at around 30-40 per cent, which means the potential tariff costs for the UK in the event of a no-deal would be in the region of £500m.
Brexit is also getting the blame for the UK Government continuing to delay their planned consultation on milk contracts, which was originally set to be released in July. This delay in producing the consultation has been met with a great deal of frustration throughout the UK, after the campaign to raise the profile of the issue gained so much momentum during the summer.
The consensus on Brexit was there needs to be a suitable solution soon for markets to settle and for business to gain a somewhat state of stability. UK dairy farmers need to know what they are working with in order to continue to produce the high-quality products they invest so much time and financial effort into.
Red Tractor CEO Jim Moseley also attended the meeting to answer questions the UK Unions had on the changes to the Red Tractors standards and to inform them how they can best advise members on future practices.
Updated science based standards have been made to the health and welfare rules to ensure practices continue to meet veterinary advice and consumer expectations. These will include the start of unannounced visit to Red Tractor farms, to ensure standards are being maintained.
Areas in which standards have changed include health plans, pain relief, animal husbandry, disease control, colostrum management, antibiotic use, medicine administration, documentation and milk production. The Unions also wanted clarity around the consumer message that Red Tractor portrays, as its credibility will be vital post Brexit in both the short and long term.
Speaking after the meeting UFU dairy policy chairman Mervyn Gordon said: “The meeting was a very useful and robust discussion around the key topics facing the UK’s milk industry as a whole, with each Union’s issue seeming to have a direct relation or comparison in the others.
“It is important that we work together on UK issues in order to best lobby on behalf of our dairy members, who are currently facing one of the toughest times we have seen since the market crashed.
“I would also like to thank Jim Moseley for attending the meeting and shedding some light on Red Tractor’s changes in standards. We need to work with organisations like Red Tractor to not only create standards which are best for the welfare of the animals but also practical and farmer focused.”