Dairy Crest is among the milk suppliers cutting the price they pay farmers, a move some say is putting the future of the industry at risk. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA
Hundreds of farmers have been blockading milk processing plants at centres across England in a protest at the price they are paid.
Farmers for Action said their supporters are outside at least three sites run by the firm Arla.
Vice-chairman Andrew Hemming said there were 400 farmers outside the Arla plant in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, and around 600 to 700 outside a plant in Bridgwater, Somerset, run by the same firm.
He said there was another protest in Leeds and he had also heard about a demonstration in Kent.
Hemming said he had been told there were about 100 tractors at the Bridgwater protest.
Hemming said he was outside the plant in Ashby where there was a “fantastic turn-out”.
“We’ve had a lot of support, not just from FFA members but a lot of other farmers too,” he said.
“It just shows the strength of feeling there is. There are quite a few tractors out and we’ve got tankers here waiting to come in. We’ve spoken to the plant manager and I don’t think he’s too happy but we’ve told him we’re staying until someone higher up comes to talk to us.”
Hemming said Farmers for Action were specifically targeting Arla tonight.
He said: “They are one of the big three who are trying to kill the dairy industry altogether.” The action is the latest in a series of protests by dairy farmers angry about cuts of up to 2p a litre in the amount they receive from major milk processors.
They say that many are being pushed to the brink and may be forced out of business, pushing up the price of milk for consumers in the long term.
Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall stepped into the debate as they urged the public to boycott some supermarkets over cuts to the price of milk.
In a letter to the Times, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall said it was shocking that many dairy farmers were to be paid less for their milk than it costs them to produce it, adding that the industry was becoming unviable.
Calling on consumers to boycott supermarkets who continued to use milk as a loss leader, they warned that thousands of family businesses would fail and the landscape would be threatened if the industry breaks down or becomes super-industrialised.
They wrote: “It is shocking that many dairy farmers are to be paid less for their milk than it costs to produce it. Dairy farming in this country is fast becoming unviable.
“Milk is a brilliant food but we have all lost sight of its value. We pay more for bottled water than we do for milk – yet water bubbles out of the ground, while milk comes from livestock which need our care. How mad is that?”
National Farmers Union dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond told MPs this week that farmers “will not have the heart to go into the winter” if milk prices stay where they are.
The latest cuts will see farmers paid around 25p a litre for milk, but Mr Raymond said the cost of production was 29p a litre, meaning a sale price of 29.5p was the minimum they needed to remain viable.
Dairy Crest – behind well-known brands Cathedral City, Clover and Country Life – is one of a number of milk producers that have slashed the price they pay farmers for milk after seeing the value of cream plummet this year.
It has admitted its milk price cuts “put pressure on our supplying farmers”.
But the British Retail Consortium said supermarkets were the wrong target.
Spokesman Richard Dodd said: “They’re actually the best payers for milk. Currently, 11 of the top 12 best-paying milk contracts are contracts paid by supermarkets.”