The chain has come under fire along with Asda, Aldi and Lidl, The Guardian reports, after the stores failed to guarantee that farmers will be paid at least enough to cover the cost of production for milk.
A nationwide coordinated wave of “trolley dash” protests is also planned for Friday night, with farmers preparing to clear supermarket shelves of milk that they will donate to charities. Protesters said they would target other supermarkets rather than Morrisons after it agreed to talks on Tuesday 11 August with the National Farmers Union and Farmers for Action, the group that has led the protests around the country this week. More than 600 farmers turned up to block the roads outside Morrisons’ distribution centres in Bridgwater Somerset and Northwich in Cheshire on Thursday night.
James Hole of Farmers for Action said: “We’ve told Morrisons to bring their chequebook. We only have a short time to turn this situation around, and if we can’t, a lot of farmers are going to be forced to sell their cows.”
Morrisons had threatened legal action against protesters after at least a dozen of its stores were targeted earlier in the week. The supermarket handed out leaflets to farmers saying it would “reserve our right to commence court proceedings for an injunction to prevent any further action” that disrupts its business.
Morrisons said in a statement: “Recent protests have caused inconvenience to customers and disruption to our stores. One customer has already been injured after being caught up in protester activity. We understand the reasons behind the protests, but we ask that they take place safely. If the activity continues to endanger customers and colleagues, we will take the necessary steps to ensure their safety.”
Farmers say they are facing a crisis as all the major milk processors cut the price they pay because of a glut in the European market. Farmers for Action says the lower prices are forcing 50 farmers a month out of business. Wholesale prices have plunged compared with last year as good weather has boosted production just as Russia banned dairy goods imported from Europe in response to sanctions and sales to China have declined. The UK supermarkets are also keen to push down the amount they pay farmers as they fight a price war over everyday goods such as milk and butter in the fierce battle for customers.
Farmers were paid an average 23.66p per litre for milk in June, down 10 per cent since January and 25 per cent lower than a year ago, according to AHDB Dairy, the British dairy organisation. Farmers say they need at least 30p to produce each litre. Some stores have agreements in place to buy milk with guaranteed prices at around 30p per litre.
On Friday, the pressure was ramped up as Müller, one of the UK’s biggest milk processors, said it would cut the price it pays farmers by 0.8p to 22.35 pence per litre from next month. The company said dairy farmers in Britain had increased the supply of milk by 1.6bn litres over the last 12 months compared with the same period two years ago. That is the equivalent of 80,000 tanker-loads, or more than 40 pints of milk a year for every person in the UK.
“We are seeing a significant imbalance between supply and demand in the UK and globally, and this is weighing heavily on the value of the milk produced by farmers,” said Martin Armstrong, head of milk supply for Müller UK & Ireland. “We are not in a position to avoid the impact of these powerful and cyclical market fundamentals.”