Dairy inquest

Another report into what went wrong with Dairy Farmers of Britain was released today, this time by a bunch of MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

For those of you who can’t remember as far back as last year (and for my international reader[s]), DFoB was a farmer-owned dairy co-op that went pear-shaped last June. Its 1800-plus producers were left with nowhere to sell their milk, members lost an average of £60-65,000 each and more than 1000 people lost their jobs as processing facilities were closed overnight.

As this latest report says, the co-op was seen as an opportunity for dairy farmers to have more control over their business and get a better milk price. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way.

It seems a number of factors brought about the co-op’s downfall – bad management, bad choice in acquisitions and lack of capital all feature in the document.

But the thing that exacerbated these issues was poor communication. DFoB’s board kept schtum while suppliers’ concerns about the state of the co-op started circulating in chat rooms and the farming press. As rumours flew and suppliers’ confidence – rightly or wrongly – started to nosedive, customers started to back away too.

DFoB got caught in a vicious circle – it couldn’t rectify the relationships it had cocked-up with retailers because it left it too late to talk about its problems. If it hadn’t got it’s owners on-side, what chance did it have with presenting a united front to customers?

Who knows whether DFoB could’ve sorted itself out by being more open, but burying its head in the sand certainly did it no favours.

I’m always harping on about smaller farmers uniting to become more powerful, so I hope the experience of DFoB doesn’t put people off the concept of co-ops. Farming isn’t always the best at learning from its mistakes, but this is one occasion it really needs to sit up, take note and talk about how to avoid this happening again.

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