Dairy Producer Organisations – to Be, or Not to Be?

That is indeed the question. Shakespeare asks whether it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles to end them.

You might well ask the same questions about Dairy Producer Organisations (DPOs). The opportunity to form DPOs has been available to farmers since 2012 when the EU brought in the “dairy package” – a set of measures designed to help the industry during that crisis. But very few DPOs have been formed in the UK, although farmers in some other EU countries have taken the plunge.

Frequently misunderstood and often maligned, I think the DPO in fact presents farmers with a great opportunity to work together to improve their bargaining position. I’ve heard some industry commentators say that farmers can’t – or won’t – collaborate, and that’s why DPOs haven’t taken off in the UK; but I just don’t believe that’s right. Look at what’s been achieved in wildlife control to prevent the spread of bovine TB; farmers have come together in areas all across England to deliver successful disease control in the most challenging of situations.

So if collaboration isn’t the issue, what is? Personally, I think it’s really a question of timing. Up until now, there’s been a limit to what a DPO can achieve because processors can ultimately impose unfair contract terms on farmers, however well the DPO negotiates on their behalf. But with the forthcoming potential regulation of dairy contracts, I think DPOs will come into their own. Contract regulation alone won’t solve all of the issues that dairy farmers face, just like DPOs on their own could not either. But together, contract regulation and the formation of DPOs give a real possibility of reform. Contract regulation will prevent processors from imposing unfair terms, and DPOs will give farmers an improved bargaining position.

In 2018 when I was at the NFU I went out to Madrid to find out more about dairy contract regulation in Spain. It was clear from everyone – farmers, processors and the government – that contract regulation was in their view only one part of the puzzle. DPOs – and, interestingly, IBOs (processors and farmers together) – were the other critical element that was needed to put the industry on a better footing.

So, as contract regulation looms large on the horizon, the time has come for farmers to stop suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and to start using the tools they have available – including DPOs – to end the sea of troubles.

Find out more about DPOs in my follow-up article: Everything you ever wanted to know about Dairy Producer Organisations…. but were afraid to ask.

About the Author

Nina Winter is a Senior Solicitor with 16 years post-qualification experience in litigation and dispute resolution, with particular expertise in judicial review challenges to government and public body decisions and an established reputation as a legal expert in the agricultural industry. Nina read law at Oxford University before training and qualifying at Eversheds. In 2006 Nina joined the legal team of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the leading trade association representing farmers and growers in England and Wales. In 2009 Nina was appointed as the NFU’s Chief Legal Adviser, a position she held for 12 years before joining Prospect Law. Having worked as in-house counsel for 14 years, Nina is able to quickly identify the legal issues at stake and to work pragmatically and seamlessly as part of a team to achieve the client’s objective. Nina’s expertise in agriculture means she brings a comprehensive understanding of the issues facing agri-businesses to her legal work.

Prospect Law is a multi-disciplinary practice with specialist expertise in the energy, infrastructure and natural resources sectors with particular experience in the low carbon energy sector. The firm is made up of lawyers, engineers, surveyors and other technical experts.

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