AS FARMING unions call for a help package for Welsh dairy farmers, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths has welcomed the temporary suspension of competition laws to support the dairy sector during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The dairy sector has felt an immediate impact from the closure of the food services sector and the realignment of the supply chain and market prices.

The temporary easing of the competition laws, which applies across the whole of the UK, will enable greater collaboration so the dairy sector, including dairy farmers and processors, can work closer to solve the issues it is facing.

The temporary suspension of competition laws for dairy sector was one of the options the Rural Affairs Minister discussed with the Agricultural Resilience Group and a roundtable of key industry representatives last week.

The minister said: “Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the food sector and its associated supply chains and one of the first sectors to feel the impact was our dairy sector.

“The relaxation of competition law for the sector is very welcome news and will enable the industry to work together on the immediate challenges they are facing as a result of the Covid19 pandemic directly helping farm and processing businesses in Wales.”

Meanwhile NFU Cymru has called for a package of measures.

Its five asks include:

  • Access to the economic resilience fund for those iaffected by coronavirus market disruption;
  • Production reduction schemes to help restore confidence in the market and prevent the disposal of milk.
  • Ensure NHS, military and prisons are all sourcing fresh Welsh and British milk.
  • Defra should help manage flows of milk through the supply chain.
  • Set up community schemes for milk and milk products to give to the most deprived and vulnerable through food bank schemes.

NFU Cymru milk board chair Abi Reader and NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones have demanded greater urgency from both Welsh and UK Government to provide critical support to Welsh dairy businesses.

The union’s calls come as dairy farmers across Wales struggle to cope with a combination of significant price cuts, delays to payments and, in some cases, no other option but to dispose of milk on farm because the processor is not collecting it.

Abi Reader said: “Today we have an unsustainable and unacceptable situation where more than 700 dairy farmers in Wales are affected by price reductions, deferred payments or reduced volumes.

"Our dairy farmers are telling us they feel completely forgotten by their governments. Their distressing stories highlight the very real fears of Wales’ dairy farmers whose businesses are teetering on the brink. Our iconic Welsh dairy sector and the key workers it employs are in need of an urgent rescue package.”

NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones stressed: “Our dairy farmers are suffering a very severe cash crisis and direct action and support is needed immediately. The longer the delay before action, the more severe the situation and the more difficult the recovery will be.

“NFU Cymru has submitted five key asks of Welsh Government and UK Government that, if delivered, will help lessen the massive impact that this crisis is having and provide some much-needed relief for our beleaguered dairy farming members. There is no silver bullet – we need to see a combination of measures implemented by both Welsh and UK Governments if we are going to address these very serious issues. NFU Cymru is clear that we want to work collaboratively with Welsh Government and Defra to work through these problems and bring this crisis to an end, but we must stress that further hesitation and delay on governments’ part will only deepen the damage being inflicted on our dairy sector. The time for action is now otherwise I fear it will be too late for some dairy farming businesses.”

NFU Cymru has sent a detailed briefing on the impact of Coronavirus on the dairy sector to all Welsh AMs and Welsh MPs. The briefing stresses the need for urgent action to protect Wales’ dairy sector.