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Kendall and Kers look ahead

SPEAKERS AT the Semex dairy conference attempted to present an optimistic outlook for the future of the UK dairy industry – but only after lamenting 2012.

Ronald Kers CEO for Muller Wiseman UK and Ireland Peter Kendall English NFU president
Ronald Kers CEO for Muller Wiseman UK and Ireland Peter Kendall English NFU president

English National Farmers Union president, Peter Kendall, spoke of the trials faced in 2012, including the price crash, terrible weather and the numerous protests that took place across the country.

He praised the farmers who came together to fight back against those processors who they felt were not paying enough for liquid milk.

During the conference, held in Glasgow, Mr Kendall said: "Farmers felt that actually, the market was not treating them fairly. People came together to see how they could address the problems within the dairy industry.

"The pulled together to create simple messages that resonated with the media and public. In the past, if I had got six farmers together, there would always be seven different opinions."

These protests resulted in the introduction of a voluntary industry code, which the NFU is now hopeful will be adopted by all milk processors.

Already onboard is Ronald Kers, CEO for Muller UK and Ireland, and now also Wiseman, who said during the conference that his company would be basing all future contracts around the new voluntary code in the hope of "creating a level playing field."

The code, however, seemed to be a bone of contention for a section of dairy farmers attending the conference.

During a question and answer session, Lanark milk producer, Ian Smith, asked: "I think the voluntary code is a farce. How will you make all farmers sign up to new contracts based on the code?

"How will you make me sign up when I don't want to, will you put me on notice? That is something dairy farmers will not want to hear." His question received applause from some of the farmers present.

Answering first, Mr Kendall retorted: "Politicians want to show a voluntary code works or doesn't work. It is unrealistic to jump from nothing at all to full regulation. If it doesn't work, we have always said we will go to government and push further."

Mr Kers noted that Muller Wiseman was one of the only processors currently implementing the code, but he hoped that all would follw suit, as 'it will create a more level playing field.'

During his speech, Mr Kers announced that Muller Wiseman would soon be venturing into the butter industry, developing the biggest butter plant in the UK, scheduled to go into operation in the autumn of this year.

Although he admitted that nothing could fully shield the company from volatile commodity prices – which the company say helped cause last year's liquid milk price crashes – Mr Kers reckoned the butter plant would give them greater options on using the liquid milk they already buy from producers.

Speaking about Muller's German processing plant, which is the biggest in the world and makes a variety of products, he said: "We can pick and choose where we get the most value from every litre of milk each week."

These new processing plans, he hoped, would help Muller Wiseman become the largest dairy company in the UK.

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