Hundreds of people from farming and its partner businesses gathered in Holsworthy last night to try to beat the growing crisis in the dairy industry.
They represented cattle herds giving half a billion litres of milk and the response was described by organisers as fantastic.
The meeting was triggered by a level of debt unseen for decades among farmers trying to survive in milk.
They say they’ve been driven to higher borrowing by bad weather and poor prices paid for their milk.
Firebrand speaker, David Handley of Farmers For Action (FFA), told them they can break the cycle of low prices by uniting to sell their milk, but it is up to the farmers themselves.
“You should get together with other farmers, and negotiate your contract.
“If you get together you’re in a very strong position.
“For every one of the milk processors who doesn’t want your milk there are eight others who do.”
And joint organiser James Cann told those in the hall “to go home and look at your (milk) contract, and if you don’t like it, do something about it.”
He said the turnout, which saw queues of people at the door of Holsworthy Memorial Hall, was “fantastic.
“It exceeded our expectations and it shows how bad things are.
“To get farmers into a room like this is hard work, and to have so many here representing half a billion litres of milk just shows the situation we’re in.”
The figure of half a billion litres was calculated by feed company founder, Bill Harper, who described the plight of many farmers:
“Five hundred jobs in the Holsworthy area are relying on the farming industry.
“But we’ve never seen the level of debt before and the pressures on farmers who are sound.
“We don’t want to see the industry contract.
“We want families to be able to pass on their farms, and to invest, but we need a profit to do that.
“We’ve got the milk, we’ve got the infrastructure.
“Only a dairy farm can get us out of this hole.
“Everyone has their own operation but please let’s stick together and get behind the leadership.”
The hall was filled to capacity, with scores of men and women standing around the sides, having driven from all over North and West Devon and Somerset.
Mr Handley told them they must treat each others as allies not rivals and added:
“You’ve been too secretive. It’s far easier to sit tight and keep the b******s out.
“You’ve got to let them come in and see what it takes to produce milk 365 days a year.
“Tell people, open your doors and explain. Put a mat outside the front gate saying ‘welcome’ not ‘Keep Out.’
“How can you expect them to understand your dilemma if you don’t show them. Everybody in the country supports farming.”
He said he wasn’t looking at the 45 year olds and over, but at people of the age of James Cann and their families.
He admitted how strong and demanding the retail sector is but the answer was to concentrate on lobbying MPs, MEPs, and to form hybrids of producer organisations, public companies and co-operatives.
The message I want to come from this is that we’ve got to have some form of unity.
“For too long you farmers have allowed this to happen.
“You produce milk, see it go down the road in the tanker and think that’s it. It’s not.
“You’ve got to put out the message loud and clear about the state of the industry.”