LONDON, July 20 (UPI) -- A major British milk buyer said Friday it will hike the price it pays dairy farmers, who used tractors to block shipments to supermarkets to protest price cuts.
The Co-operative Group said it wanted to recognize the importance of "ensuring [a] sustainable future" for the farmers, the BBC reported. The National Farmers' Union responded by saying the co-op's move was a "positive step."
The farmers initiated their protest Thursday night, contending a recent 2 pence (3 cents U.S.) per liter (0.26 gallon) cut left them in a money-losing situation. The co-op said by Aug. 1 the total price farmers receive will rise to 29 pence (46 cents) per liter -- their break-even point.
Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells said the co-op has been in contact with the farmers union "and we have listened to their concerns."
"We are taking this action to help alleviate the immediate pressures that farmers within the [co-op] are facing," Murrells said. "Going forward, we are committed to finding a supply model that is sustainable for the long-term future of our dairy farmers."
Farmers union President Peter Kendall said the co-op's decision was a welcome first step.
"Their recognition of the real difficulties being faced by British farmers this summer and commitment to support them through these difficult times is to be applauded," Kendall said. "But whilst this is an important move, all retailers must move to a sustainable funding model for the dairy industry."
Hundreds of dairy farmers blocked milk processing plants across England Thursday night, preventing them from delivering milk to supermarkets, the BBC said.
Dairy farmers said supermarkets had cut the price supermarkets pay them for milk by about 2 pence per liter (about 12 cents per gallon). Farmers for Action had threatened more blockades.
"We're going to go out of business so we'll see how they like it with no milk at all on their shelves," the FFA's Stephen Bitten said.
Celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had stepped into the debate, urging the public to boycott supermarkets that have cut milk prices, The Northern Echo reported.
"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," Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote in a letter to The Times of London. "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?"
Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium said supermarkets are the wrong target.
"They're actually the best payers for milk. Currently, 11 of the top 12 best-paying milk contracts are contracts paid by supermarkets," BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said. "What we don't see is protesting farmers or TV chefs questioning the amount that the other big buyers of milk, who include manufacturers and the public sector, are paying and calling on them to show the same strong support for the industry that retailers do."