DAIRY farmers have won a powerful supporter for better milk prices in the form of the National Federation of Women's Institutes.

The 215,000-member organisation threw its weight behind milk producers' demands at its annual meeting in London - and its action includes lobbying retailers and processors.

More than 99pc of the NFWI pledged support for a resolution from the Devon Federation urging members to "do all in their power to raise public awareness of the unfair difference between the retail price of milk and price paid to the farmer".

Speaking for the resolution, Nick Everington, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers' chief executive, said dairy farmers were a hardy breed.

"They have been prepared in the past to work long hours for rates of pay well below the minimum average wage in order to stay in business," he said. "However, this is not sustainable even in the short term, nor is it fair that farmers continue to subsidise the costs of milk production while some retailers are making multi-billion pound profits.

"In the last ten years, 25 producers have left the industry per week. During that period, farm gate prices have fallen by 25pc, processor margins on liquid milk have remained relatively consistent at 40pc to 45pc, while retailer margins have increased dramatically from 3pc to 28pc.

"The market is therefore not working properly, price rises are being absorbed by the retailers and processors and not being passed on to the farmer.

"Recent farmer-led initiatives have urged retailers to increase the price of milk by as much as 3.5ppl, however previous experience has shown a 1ppl increase usually ends up with farmers getting a miserly 0.3ppl.

"At the same time, there is every reason for farmgate prices to be rising: milk consumption is beginning to rise for the first time in 30 years; market prices for the main dairy commodities are holding up well; cheese stocks are low and prices firming; the pound is weakening against the euro, and milk production is running well below quota.

"Without a farmgate price increase, farmers will not have the capacity to make the reinvestment needed for the future to provide an efficient and dynamic dairy sector."

Mr Everington repeated the RABDF's belief that there was a strong case for an independent watchdog regulator to be appointed to investigate and oversee the dairy industry to ensure a fair margin was returned to farmers and all the sectors involved.

Barbara Gill, chairman of the NFWI, said: "I am delighted that our members voted, almost unanimously, to take on the issue of unfair prices paid to dairy farmers.

"Food and farming has been at the heart of the NFWI since it began in 1915 and, 90 years later, sustainable farming practices are still very important to us.

"This resolution means that the NFWI and Women's Institute members across the country will campaign and work to do all they can to ensure that dairy farmers receive a fair price for their milk."