Dairy farmers have their fate in their own hands – that is the message from NFU Scotland milk chairman Gary Mitchell, who this week exhorted them to take part in the government's dairy contract consultation.

"2020 has certainly been a year for unprecedented events," said Mr Mitchell. "We have all been affected by the changes in our lives and while their does appear to be glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, we all sit nervously awaiting the next headline. Unfortunately, dairy farmers do not have the luxury to sit on their hands and await outcomes. "Fluctuating prices, supply chain corrections, and externalities we have no control over like the weather, have made the job of producing milk a challenging task in the first six months of this calendar year. With Brexit next on the agenda and Scottish elections next year, who knows how different 2021 will look?"

Amongst all that uncertainty, the chance to have a bit more of a say in the destiny of their businesses by contributing to the dairy supply chain consultation was too good to miss, he stressed.

"Like many others I welcome the launch of the long-awaited Government consultation to seek views on the proposal to introduce legislation to effect reform in the dairy sector," said Mr Mitchell.

"Quoting DEFRA, this consultation is in response to concerns raised that primary producers, including dairy farmers, tend to occupy positions of relative market weakness in the food supply chain. Consensus among agricultural producers in the UK is that unequal bargaining power with processors and retailers can expose farmers to unfair treatment, with the potential to undermine equitable price transmission along the chain.

"Since the dissolution of the Milk Marketing Board, this proposed change in legislation could prove to point one of the most significant happenings in the dairy sector in the UK in my lifetime," said Mr Mitchell.

"The consultation was released a month ago and it could provide a pathway to a future for a dairy sector that is more resilient and innovative, something that is paramount at a time where we are still operating within of a global pandemic, through the EU exit implementation period and significant changes in farm support. It is vital all farmers have their voice heard."

Mr Mitchell sad that he recognised that the relationship between farmers and processors had improved in the last few years, with co-op and 'Producer Organisation' structures leading to better co-operation and putting farmers in a stronger position: "We do not want to fix things which are not broken, but we also need to address the many examples where farmers are in a desperately poor position because of their milk contract and relationship with buyers."

He asked all producers to read the union's background information on the topic at https://www.nfus.org.uk/policy/dairy/dairy-contracts.aspx and fill in the consultation questionnaire at https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chain-directorate/contractual-relationships-in-the-uk-dairy-industry/