DEFRA launched a consultation into “Contractual relationships in the dairy industry” in June and producers have until the middle of September to respond, writes the newly-appointed vice-chair of dairy co-op, First Milk, Robert Craig.

Tipped as a “Once in a lifetime opportunity” by the National Farmers Union (NFU) I would agree it’s really important producers engage with the process – as much to avoid poorly written legislation as to improve the position of dairy producers, says Mr Craig, a prominent Cumbrian dairy farmer.

However, its essential producers understand their current position and supply contract before answering the questions in the consultation and reflect this position in the answers given.

Parts of the UK dairy industry could certainly operate more fairly, the challenge being imposing poor legislation across the whole industry could result in unintended consequences resulting from compliance. Cooperatives buy and process around half the total milk volume produced in the UK.

Clear democratic and robust governance processes drive a level of fairness and transparency which would be difficult for an independent dairy company to match, even with legislation. In a cooperative where producers own their processing capability, they have a shared vested interest in the long-term viability of the whole business. Democratically elected representation at every level of governance is in place to ensure there’s fairness while respecting any commercially sensitive information.

Since the consultation was launched, we at First Milk have convened a working group consisting of council members and farmer board members working through our response and producing a position statement which has been shared with our members and the rest of the industry.

I urge dairy farmers to first understand their current position before responding so we do not unintentionally bind our hands as a cooperative. The consultation is open until mid-September.

The impact of C19 is still being felt in current and future dairy markets which like most other commodities are still experiencing a level of unpredictability, and likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

As food service and out-of-home eating begins to slowly recover a trading situation similar to what we would expect will result as supply and demand balance out.

The two great unknows remain, how the prospects of a global depression added to the domestic recession will affect dairy consumption, and how trade deals and tariff rates will add to our short-term challenges.

Longer-term the continued annual reduction of UK liquid sales is expected to continue while dairy consumption of cheese and deserts more than compensates.

The challenge for the UK industry is ensuring sufficient future investment in our ability to produce products consumers want to consume. Again, the consequences of BREXIT and trade will determine how much of an issue this becomes for the industry with our ability to compete with exports crucial to long term security.

Mr Craig, of Cairnhead Farm, Armathwaite, has been a farmer director with First Milk for three years.