County Show: ‘Something is wrong when a bottle of water costs more than four pints of milk’

NFU chairman, Meurig Raymond
NFU chairman, Meurig Raymond
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For the first time in decades a president of the National Farmers Union attended Bucks County Show.

Meurig Raymond, who was elected last year, spoke in the NFU tent and headed a forum, discussing the challenges currently facing farmers.

He acknowledged “the perfect storm” in the industry with falling milk, lamb and grain prices and thanked the organisations including the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution that are helping farmers in distress.

The collapse in prices has been caused by several factors including trade sanctions, a slow down in the Chinese economy and the strengthening of the pound against the Euro.

And Mr Raymond criticised the marketing policy of some retailers. He said: “Major retailers are using bread and milk as loss leaders to get footfall into the shops. This devalues the products and that culture needs to change.

“We need longer term contracts. In the milk sector, did any of us ever dream we would see some farmers receive as little as 14p or 15p per litre?”

He said these sort of prices were unsustainable when farmers need at the very least 28p to 29p to cover the cost of production and give a small profit, and that ideally it needs to be lifted to 32p per litre.

A round of applause filled the tent when he said: “There is something very wrong in society when a bottle of water costs more than four pints of milk.”

Mr Raymond said the NFU is working with the government and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Liz Truss has set up a working group to look at contracts across the whole industry.

Mr Raymond said: “The market mechanisms around milk need to change otherwise there will be a lot of big decisions made by milk farmers between now and Christmas.”

Mr Raymond said that the crisis in agriculture affects not only farmers, but many others who work in affilitated industries, supplying machinery and inputs to farms.

He said: “My message to government is that agriculture and food production is the biggest industry in the UK. If you want to grow the rural economy you have to have profitable agriculture.”

Mr Raymond said he will argue for better labelling to promote British food, the Single Farm Payment to be paid promptly without delays and longer term contracts.

Mr Raymond also said, with the EU referendum expected next year, the NFU is currently looking at the advantages and disadvantages of being in the European Union, and will publish the results to members when the exercise is completed.

Mr Raymond farms 3,400 acres in Pembrokeshire with his twin brother, their wives, his eldest son and nephew.

The farm grows combinable crops and potatoes and has 620 dairy cows, 600 head of beef cattle and about 2,500 store lambs.During the week Mr Raymond lives in London, Brussels or Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, home of the NFU HQ.

He said: “I am very fortunate, I have a good team around me. I live out of a suitcase during the week.

“I consider it a privilege to be at Bucks County Show and to present some of the prizes to what is the very best in British farming.”