As Scotland eases its lockdown restrictions, Scotland’s dairy farmers are looking to to 'reset and restart' by building stronger supply chains – and re-opening the discussion over milk contracts.

NFU Scotland has recognised that the pause in normal commerce has created a significant opportunity for Scottish farmers, crofters and growers to address longstanding problems and inequities. With that in mind, all of the union's commodity committees and working groups – combinable crops, livestock, milk, pigs, poultry and specialist crops – have been busy identifying key steps and actions needed.

For those producing milk, the agreed priorities are:

• Engage on all discussions relevant to government support options for dairy farmers;

• Work with processors to ensure any adverse impacts on producers are minimised and returns to farm businesses are maximised;

• Engage with processors to assess if their business requirements have changed during the recovery stage to ensure that producers can adapt;

• Deliver the forthcoming milk contract consultation and engage with the membership;

• Deliver the Scottish Dairy Growth Board Dairy Future Report, including increasing export markets for Scottish dairy produce and inward investment for increased dairy processing capacity.

Milk committee chairman, Gary Mitchell, who milks cows near Stranraer, said: “What an extraordinary spring. When the Milk committee met in March, we were joined by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing and had a very useful discussion on milk contracts, future investment in dairy processing in Scotland and all the environmental challenges ahead for dairy farmers.

“A few days later, there was a dramatic change, we hit lockdown and a real challenge came to the sector. We immediately took lots of calls from farmers and processors regarding the shutdown of restaurants, hotels and cafes. So many changes happened so quickly and that had a real effect on the supply chain. Overnight, everyone was going to a shop or a retailer to access milk and dairy," reported Mr Mitchell.

“That brought a big change to how things operated. Farmers were worried about getting their milk lifted and consumers were asking why they couldn’t get milk on the shelves, It took a few weeks to get a grip on the whole dairy market situation during the initial response phase to Covid-19. Now, we are in reset and restart and heading for recovery, and we need to focus on how we can improve our supply chain.

“A lot of work by NFU Scotland in recent years has also been spent on milk contracts. I am pleased to say that the UK Government and devolved nations will be launching a consultation on contracts in next few weeks," he said.

“I would encourage all farmers to take part it. It is all about the future. It is not just about a farmer’s milk contract, but about the whole chain from farmer to processor to retailer and other outlets and making that chain better.”