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The NFU today warned that the foot and mouth crisis must not be used during forthcoming negotiations as an excuse for failing to pay farmers a better price for their milk come 1 April.

NFU Milk Committee Chairman Terrig Morgan said the processing and retailing sectors must not take advantage of vulnerable farmers to bear down on milk prices.

He called for at least an extra 2 pence per litre to be paid to producers, warning: "Without this increase as a bare minimum we will see a further exodus of dairy farmers from the industry."

He said: "There are already question marks over the longer term milk supply situation in Britain.

"We are extremely unlikely to reach our quota this year and this could be repeated next year, especially with the continuing poor weather and with dwindling feed stocks. This situation can only be exacerbated by the foot and mouth disaster.

"The short-term decision making that has typified the industry over the past three years must be replaced with long-term reinvestment with the aim of returning dairy farming to profitability.

"In my opinion we need at least 24 pence per litre for that to happen."

The NFU will be pressing retailer and processors for a desperately-needed rise in the milk price paid to farmers over the next few weeks, he said.

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