Scottish MPs urge action to ‘protect’ dairy farmers

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Dozens of members of Britain’s fourth-generation dairy farmers gathered for a meeting in rural Exmoor on Tuesday to discuss the future of the family business.

It comes after news that more than 80,000 farms in the UK could go out of business over the next two decades.

Scottish Conservative MP Alistair Carmichael told the BBC that the Government must act quickly to close the shortfall in milk production.

More than 40 members of British Dairy Farmers in Exmoor County Council (BDFC) are attending a two-day meeting organised by the GB Dairy Milk Group (GBMGB).

Using UK figures published last month, Britain’s 4th generation dairy farmer group said if current trends of higher milk costs continue across the EU, the numbers of dairy farmers will fall from about 32,000 to 15,000 – a situation it hopes to address over the coming years.

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And the leaders of the fourth generation farmers are urging policy makers to move faster on legislating on the environmental impact of farms.

It comes as the EU, which currently guarantees agricultural rules to cover environmental regulation in the UK, prepared to finalise new guidelines in March which would allow the UK to impose its own environmental standards on EU farms.

But environmental group BirdLife Scotland has criticised the proposals, saying the proposals show they could threaten the farming livelihoods of those who have worked in the dairy industry for generations.

Lord Carmichael, the Scottish Tory MP for Orkney and Shetland, also spoke at the summit.

He said he would not be opposed to setting up a special fund within the British Dairy Milk Group which would support the “vulnerable” farmers.

Lord Carmichael added: “In order to move faster to protect this vital part of the UK’s food and drink industry, we should move to restructure the GB Dairy Milk Group, with clear legal structures that protect the welfare of farmers but also push forward into the new technologies of the future.”

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Milk production continues to rise, at times increasing by more than 5% a year. But the trend has reversed over the past three years and the market is now in surplus.

Without changes in farming legislation, it is believed that at the current rate of production, UK dairy farms could fall from 33% of total farm land in 2010 to just 6% by 2026.

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