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Farmers claim milk-battle victory

By Neil Merrett , 06-Jun-2008

Dairy farmers across Europe say they are temporarily calling for an end to ongoing strikes that have threatened milk supply in the bloc, after industry players agreed to enter talks over the pricing for their products.

Farmers' groups in Germany, Belgium and Netherlands have all become involved in various protests during the week, from spilling milk to boycotting production, as they call for a higher basic pay rate for their products. The European Milk Board (EMB) said that the united front shown by milk producers across the bloc had succeeded in ensuring they would have a greater say in the pricing of their products. Set price The farmers have been calling for a set price of about €0.43 per litre for their products, along with wider-reaching market reforms to protect the industry. Protestors say that despite the beginning of the talks, they are at an early stage in meeting these goals. However, a number of key retailers in Germany, which has seen some of the most intense protests over the last week, said they would be increasing the price paid to its farmers for milk, according to the Reuters news agency. CAP reforms As part of ongoing reform to European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some industry players believe that farmer and industry hardship is a necessary part of ensuring a profitable dairy market that is not reliant on government support to survive. However, milk producers from across the EU have recently claimed that such a policy is not sustainable and could severely cripple milk producers in the bloc unless a new method of pricing can be found. Production commences Romuald Schaber, head of the German Dairy farmers' association, said that as of last night, producers would be resuming supply, for the time being at least, to facilitate the beginning of talks with industry stakeholders and government to over pricing reform. "[The protests have shown] across-the-border agreement that long-term cost-covering milk producer prices called for a new position of the [farmers] in the producer, processor, retail set-up," he said from a protest in Berlin. "To enable negotiations with the dairy industry and afterwards with the politicians to be conducted calmly, the European milk producers have decided to take the initiative and suspend the milk supply boycott". Schaber added that he was confident there had been suitable support form consumers over the strikes to prove that there was willingness in the market to pay more for milk that directly benefits farmers. Sending a message EMB vice president Sieta van Keimpema that the cooperation of farmers through the strikes had there sent a message to dairies and government needed to assist farmers where possible to protect milk supply, both economically and competitively. "The European milk producers were agreed that a fundamental precondition for a fair payment for milk was effective control of volumes that had to be imposed on politicians by collaboration with the dairies," she stated. "This included protection from outside to prevent the importation of produce being supplied from other parts of the world for whatever reasons at ever lower prices." Farming groups have suggested that a recent two per cent rise in EU milk production quotas, which came into affect from 1 April this year as part of the bloc's CAP reforms, had led to a dramatic fall in price for their products. EDA response Despite calls for the introduction for some kind of fair trade price system to protect dairy farmers, the European Dairy Association (EDA) believes that the market must continue to work towards industry deregulation. While the organisation accepted that it was important to ensure reasonable compensation for the rising costs of dairy farmers, liberalisation had to remain the long-term target for dairy production in the bloc. Dr Joop Kleibeuker, head of the EDA, told DairyReporter.com earlier this year that a fair trade-style fixed milk price will serve only to distort agricultural reforms designed to ensure profitability for everyone in the milk supply chain.


"The ongoing reforms of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have meant that there is no bottom in the market but also no ceiling," he said. "This is the choice we have made in Europe, and we are confident that there is a good future ahead for the entire dairy industry on the world stage."

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