At midnight on the September 15, the DEFRA consultation on the milk contracts will close. Today, I write this letter as a farmer who will be completing this over the weekend. As you will have noticed as my role as NFU Scotland milk chairman over the last few months we have been promoting this consultation to encourage as many farmers to take part, but why? What difference will it make?
Since 2010 I have been involved in milk politics and I seem to have more memories of the lows than I do the highs, as milk chairman back in 2012, NFU Scotland and NFU, we successfully negotiated the voluntary code of practice, which we hoped would be the beginning of a change of behaviour in our sector, but unfortunately the word voluntary turned out to be the biggest failure of what was agreed. Yes some processors did change behaviours, but many did not. In the last paragraph of the VCOP it reads after a review that the UK Government and devolved administrations 'reserve the right and willingness' to legislate.
The late Alex Fergusson MSP carried out this review making many recommendations which were never acted upon, so that’s why this consultation is so important. First of all, if you are reading this and are unaware where you can access this consultation please go to either the DEFRA website or NFU Scotland website and there you will find the link to the Milk Consultation – it will take at least 1 to 2 hours of your time as there are 32 questions to be answered.
Please don’t let this put you off but if your time is short, I would advise at least five questions you must give opinion on. Question 2 'legislation rather than voluntary measures' – personally I strongly agree. Q5 – 'any future legislation should introduce a legal obligation to include price calculation/mechanism in a contract?' – I agree we need a clearer understanding how our milk price is calculated. Q20 – 'all parties should be able to request changes to terms of the contract, with that change only coming into force if agreed unanimously'. I agree because currently your processor can change terms overnight if they so wish. 
Q24 – 'exclusivity clauses should be prohibited, to what extent do you agree with the statement?' This is probably one of the most contentious questions in the consultation. Personally I think it’s badly worded and I have to say I neither agree or disagree with the statement, I do think non-exclusive contracts should be an option in the future. Q30 – 'The promotion of producer organisations should be considered alongside legislation'. On this I strongly agree. Also good farmer representation should be a minimum standard whether to a private processor or a cooperative. 
Please make time to fill this consultation in this weekend. It’s so important as the UK and Scottish Governments will observe how many farmers have taken part. You may be thinking 'I have a good contract'; you maybe supply a retailer or belong to a strong co-op, then also comment on the good points; but this is our once in generation opportunity – let's not waste it!

Gary Mitchell 
West Galdenoch