Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Farming: Dairy Industry in Crisis but Good Times on Way; the Number of British Dairy Farmers Has More Than Halved in a Decade and They Are Currently Leaving the Industry at the Rate of Two a Day. as the NFU Puts Forward Its 'Survival Plan' for Dairy Farming, Karen Dent Explores the Problems and Possible Solutions for the Sector

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Farming: Dairy Industry in Crisis but Good Times on Way; the Number of British Dairy Farmers Has More Than Halved in a Decade and They Are Currently Leaving the Industry at the Rate of Two a Day. as the NFU Puts Forward Its 'Survival Plan' for Dairy Farming, Karen Dent Explores the Problems and Possible Solutions for the Sector

Article excerpt

THESE are grim times for dairy farmers.

Falling milk prices have arrived on the back of a year when feed, fuel and fertiliser costs reached record highs and coupled with a lack of new blood coming into the industry, it seems little wonder that producer numbers are plummeting.

Today, there are around 13,601 dairy farmers in Britain - down from 14,296 in 2007 and 28,119 in 1997 - and people are leaving at the rate of two a day, according to figures from the NFU.

Many more are currently planning their exit, according to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF).

"The main problem is the uncertainty of the future," said RABDF chairman Lyndon Edwards.

"The milk prices are dropping, farmers had been holding on hoping things would get better. Last year, we had prices rising and the whole thing started to look better.

"Now more are leaving or considering leaving.

The exodus from the industry has been going on for years."

The numbers quitting the job slowed last year when milk prices began to increase but recent cuts in the price paid per litre by large processors including Wiseman Dairies, Dairy Crest, Arla and First Milk has opened the floodgates once again.

"Farmers aren't greedy, they don't want to make a fortune but the hourly wage of many is under the minimum wage," said Mr Edwards, himself a dairy farmer based in Chepstow. "Farmers can't make a decent living from producing milk in the UK."

British dairy farmers produce around 13bn litres of milk annually and the country imports 2bn litres. But Mr Edwards said supermarkets buying cheap milk from abroad could not guarantee the same high quality of the product or the stringent welfare standards that British herds must abide by.

He said: "We have to raise the awareness of what's happening out there. I think that the blame has to be levelled across the cheap food policy. It's all very well supermarkets saying they want higher animal welfare standards but they have to pay for it."

Indeed, domestic dairy farms are receiving some of the lowest prices in Europe for their milk, consistently around 1.5p per litre (ppl) less than the average EU price.

In November last year, British prices were the lowest in the EU 15 average, a whopping 3ppl below the price most country's farmers were receiving.

The NFU put the figures together as part of its "survival plan" for the dairy industry which was launched during the organisation's two-day conference this week.

Although the number crunchers reckon the long-term outlook for dairying is bright, NFU dairy board chairman Gwyn Jones says it is no surprise that so many farmers are throwing in the towel.

"The ability of dairy farmers to stand back and appreciate that the long-term prospects for their industry are positive is understandably very difficult when faced with some very significant short-term challenges, including TB, NVZs, high and volatile input costs and unstable milk prices," he said.

"The consequences mean there is a lack of confidence, low levels of investment and expansion, and high numbers of farmers are leaving the industry which in turn leads to falling milk production."

The NFU's vision for the industry is called Building Confidence - Boosting Supply. It is demanding action now to stop the critical mass of dairy farmers disappearing before Britain becomes unable to ensure the security of its own domestic milk supply.

The document is calling on the Government to commit itself to buying British dairy products and to increase consumer awareness of the Red Tractor logo which marks British quality assured food.

Producer confidence in the supply chain would also be improved if an independent supermarket ombudsman and a new code of practice were introduced to ensure farmers are dealt with in a fair and transparent way, the action plan says. …

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