Tempers have been flaring across pastoral Britain as farmers, far from a radical bunch in the main, have reached the end of their collective tethers and started to protest outside supermarkets distribution centres and major dairies.
There are ironies and inconsistencies in this debate. However, from an economic perspective, the bottom line is that a product of high quality, that is a major environmental contaminant in the wrong hands and that needs a sophisticated chill chain to remain in prime condition for up to 14 days, is not encouraging participants in the chain to sustain investment.
Accordingly, without an economic return for efficient farmers and efficient dairies, and note the use of the word efficient, investment will not and should not take place to innovate, improve and so sustain. In the long run, such economics will be bad for the British consumer because innovation is a constant demand and need and the category will lose out without an effective economic model.
So what needs to be done? Well, firstly, the longer the trade can keep politicians out of the chain the better. The history of political involvement in the milk industry is tarnished, rarely effectively striking the balance between allowing the weak to move on to pastures new while stimulating the effective to be rewarded for innovation and investment. However, maybe expedience determines that politicians are a necessary evil in the sector.
If the state has to be involved I would like to see government and the trade focus on communication. Communication about what it takes to produce a pint of high-quality milk and get it to the supermarket in prime condition about the virtues of a product that has merit in a balanced diet about the fact that farmers, processors and retailers need to make a fair return.
Fail to do this and dairy farmers and rural economies will continue to suffer unnecessarily. Retailers are not the root of all evil in the chain, but they must, along with consumers, understand the nature of this product, the need for investment and their part in that process.
Communication is key and that needs forward thinking and like-minded leaders to see the wood from the trees.