Call for action to help West Sussex’s dairy farmers

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Dairy farming in West Sussex should be supported by a range of actions by the county council - according to the Labour Group.

West Sussex county councillor Michael Jones has submitted a motion calling on leader Louise Goldsmith to lobby the Government to do all it can to support and sustain the dairy industry in West Sussex, and also urging the council to encourage its own suppliers to engage with the farmers, and work with local businesses to encourage them to support the dairy farmers.

A briefing note from county council officers explained how milk prices have hit a 30-month low according to Government figures, with many farmers struggling to pay their bills.

Mr Jones said: “I put forward this motion because it seemed to the West Sussex Labour Group that this should be an obvious concern when the plight of dairy farmers producing milk at a lower price than supermarkets will pay for it has been highlighted nationally as a crisis.

“The National Farmers Union (NFU) have informed me as part of my research into this issue that there are currently 60 dairy farms across West Sussex, covering a significant area, and there are around 24,000 dairy cows.”

He explained how the NFU informed him the national average price is 24.25 pence per litre (ppl), and while some farmers may have arrangements with supermarkets who have better deals, there were others who received an even lower price.

Mr Jones added: “I’m frustrated by the lack of urgency from WSCC to try to help this problem - I remain unconvinced the decision to postpone a debate at Full Council on Friday is going to help, particularly when that means it won’t be voted on until December at the earliest.

“I would also like the council to be putting pressure on the Government to be more proactive on this issue, rather than just letting ‘market forces’ take their course and potentially destroy local livelihoods.”

The motion was referred to the leader at a Full Council meeting last Friday and was not debated by councillors.

Mr Jones intended to challenge Mrs Goldsmith to consider how WSCC could lead by example, as it is a significant consumer of milk, especially through its schools.

He continued: “It seems difficult to believe that we couldn’t reach some better arrangements, or that West Sussex farmers wouldn’t want to take part in making sure local milk got supplied to local people and children, if they could. It would be more environmentally friendly, too.”

According to the NFU although a lot of issues facing the industry stem from global economic pressures, the Government can still help by creating a supportive policy framework that recognises the importance of farming to the local economy, and by encouraging retailers to treat milk producers fairly.

The officers’ note describes how the lifting of milk production quotas has led to a ‘developing crisis in dairy farming across Europe’, while the Government is encouraging UK farmers to invest in processing equipment to diversify their businesses and produce products such as cheeses, yoghurt, cream and butter.

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