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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2005, 12:33 GMT
'Farmers can't go on like this'
Dairy cow
Farmers producing meat and vegetables are also taking action
As a group of around 2,000 British farmers launch a three-day strike in protest at the low prices paid by retailers for their goods, one dairy farmer explains why he and his wife are taking part.

Dairy farming is all John Cummings knows.

The 53-year-old took over the tenancy of his farm in Stranraer, south west Scotland from his father and has never made a living any other way.

But over the next three days he'll pour thousands of litres of fresh milk into a slurry pit at his farm, rather than sending it to the processors and ultimately to the supermarkets' shelves.

It is an act - which he believes he has been forced to commit - that will "disgust" him, he says.

According to estimates by campaign group Farmers for Action - which has organised the protest - John is one of around 2,000 farmers taking part. They include other dairy farmers as well as those producing meat, vegetables, fruit and grain.

"I've never taken action like this. British dairy farmers have never felt the need to go on strike before, but this is all down to the power of the supermarkets."

Every farmer is going to lose a lot of money - but in the end it will cost a lot more if we do nothing
John Cummings

Farmers have been consistently let down despite collective agreements between retailers, processors, distributors and farmers about increases in the retail price of a litre of milk, he says.

"The housewives are paying more but nothing is coming back to the farmer," he told the BBC News website.

"We are now producing food for less than the cost of production."

Although Mr Cummings, who works the farm with his wife Lynda and occasional contract staff, works with a co-operative to get his milk to the processors, they don't have the power to fight the dairies and supermarkets.

"If people complain they lose their contracts."

Shoppers aware?

He is co-ordinating the strike action of farmers in Scotland this week. Each will make individual decisions on how much stock they are prepared to ditch for the cause.

"I'm not putting pressure on anyone about how far they go, it's up to them. We have decided to throw away half what we produce (around 1,200 litres a day at this time of year) on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday we'll be giving the dairy nothing."

Some farmers he has spoken to will lose hundreds of pounds, while other bigger farms are sacrificing sums of up to 11,000, he says.

"Every farmer is going to lose a lot of money. We're all worried, but in the end it will cost a lot more if we do nothing."

It puts too much pressure on me, and on my wife - I'd have to look at a different income
John Cummings

Campaigners accept that this time their action is unlikely to be noticed by the supermarket shopper.

"We're not trying to target them. It's a message for the big companies that in future strikes we will withhold more - they will get nothing from us."

"I am not going to produce milk at the price they are paying. If it carries on unchanged, then by the time my youngest son leaves school in two year's time I'd probably have to give it up.

"It puts too much pressure on me, and on my wife - I'd have to look at a different income."

He has not encouraged any of his four sons to go into farming.

"It's far too hard a life. For the hours my wife and I put in we must be working for about 50p an hour. How can anyone think that's all right?"

One farmer explains why he is striking

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