The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers: 2003 and 2017

In August 2003 the Farmers Guardian reported that a series of industry-wide meetings, called by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), were held for a year to discuss the true costs of milk production.

Members of RABDF, with independent research consultancies and dairy farmers, produced a report showing that the cost of milk production is much higher than current estimates state. The true cost of milk production was found to be between 20 and 23p a litre, rather than the 18p currently being paid. Dairy farmers were working an average 70-hour week with only a few days holiday each year and low milk prices have left them earning just £2.90 an hour.

The chairman, Tim Brigstocke, said that problem areas were fixed costs, farm overheads, farmer remuneration, family labour costs, pensions and staff development had not been included in current assessments.

The new guidelines proposed by the RABDF included gross costs such as feed, forage, bedding, and vet’s bills; operational costs like labour (£10 an hour deemed a reasonable figure to factor into the equation, given the level of skills required in dairying), machinery, depreciation, property-related, unpaid family labour and resource costs: rent, quota leasing and finance costs. Mr Brigstocke urged producers to adopt these guidelines to arrive at a realistic picture of how much their businesses were costing them.

A Lancashire dairy farmer contacted this site to voice concern about the very differently focussed RABDF of 2017 and its ‘elitist style’.

RABDF, now described as the ‘the new secretariat to the Trehane Trust’, is advertising its October conference in Birdcage Walk London for ‘leading farmers’ who are to be granted the opportunity to ‘rub shoulders’ with policy makers and supply chain leaders. The conference will be held in conjunction with the Trehane Trust which funds research into all aspects of the dairy supply chain, from production to new product development and consumer trends in the dairy sector – but the crucial subject of farmgate prices is not listed.

One of the invited speakers at this most opulent venue (above) is from Arla – a downward trend-setter, announcing a price reduction for the April payment – the first milk price drop in 2017 by a major UK milk buyer. A further online search will reveal that this company has closed several processing plants making hundreds of workers unemployed, though the net profit of the Arla Group last year was €356 million.

The key findings of Trehane Fellowship recipient Mike Houghton of Andersons will be included. He has been researching future options and opportunities for the sector at home and abroad, using his contacts in Canada and the USA to find out more about their support systems, in particular crop insurance schemes and futures markets and consulting key people within the legal profession and the insurance industry to obtain a different perspective on the topic. 

Tim Brigstocke is now RABDF’s policy director

When this ‘Business and Policy Conference’ has taken place, will he help the RABDF to come down to earth in the interests of the average dairy farmer – arguably an endangered species?

In the interests of food security, will the RABDF present the facts about rising costs but low and fluctuating farmgate prices to the complicit policy makers and supply chain leaders, with whom wealthy farmers are being invited to rub shoulders?

Or will they continue their failed policies as the dairy sector continues to decline and foreign importers take over?

 

 

 

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Dairy farmer writes: input costs have soared as farmgate price drops

Another Lancashire dairy farmer (a few of her herd, right) responds:

Not only was the average price UK dairy farmers received for their milk in 2015 lower than it was when the MMB was abolished 24 years ago, but it was 24% lower, and that was before farm gate prices last year suddenly plummeted by 1/3. 

No producer ought to be losing vast sums of money for their hard effort when producers are mainly exploited by those who can.

The cost of basic utilities and inputs required to produce that milk has risen:

  • water has increased by 137% in the same period since 1994 due to  companies being able to automatically raise their prices annually by the rate of inflation
  • similarly the price of electricity over that period increased by 207%  
  • Animal feed costs up 58%  
  • fertiliser up 114%
  • and diesel 224% 

and that is another reason that the number of dairy herds in the UK has collapsed – as input pricing is so much out of kilter with the farm gate price.

 

 

 

Food security 10: British dairy production at risk

 

Pre-empting qualms about the health impacts of dairy products, from Lancashire dairy farmer Tom Rigby’s retweet we note the findings of professor of food chain nutrition Ian Givens and his colleagues from Reading University, Copenhagen University and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. They analysed 29 studies involving 938,465 participants from around the world undertaken over the last 35 years, including five done in the UK. “No associations were found for total (high-fat/low-fat) dairy and milk with the health outcomes of mortality, CHD or CVD,” they said. In fact, they added, fermented dairy products may potentially slightly lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

A new hazard is being added to the long-term imposition of payments below the cost of production

As dairy farms close, due to unviable prices, the distances between farms is growing and providing a tanker to collect their milk is too expensive. The East Anglian Times reports that Muller has announced that it will close its Chadwell Heath depot in London and no longer collect the milk from 18 dairy farms across Norfolk, Suffolk. Essex and Kent. This follows the closure of two Scottish plants by Muller last year.

The 18 dairy farms who are to have their milk supply contracts cancelled by Muller have been given 12 months from the end of March to find new buyers for their milk at a price that offers them a viable future – one commentator adds gloomily:

“Given current trends it won’t be long before it will be possible to drive from Dover to York without seeing a single dairy cow”.

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A brief history for visiting readers from other countries (left, Jan-May)

The number of dairy farms across the UK has fallen dramatically since the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) was abolished in I993 by a Conservative government that saw it as “anti-competitive”.  In the period 2013-2016 alone, Business Matters reports that 1022 farms have closed. The MMB was created by an act of Parliament in the 1930s to ensure that all UK dairy farmers were paid the same price for their milk and that they shared milk collection charges regardless of where they farmed. This was to stop dairy farmers being bullied by over-powerful dairy companies who were establishing virtual regional monopolies.

Since the MMB was broken up, farmers have had to negotiate terms with processors individually and this ‘free trade’ has benefitted the milk processing companies and now the average price UK dairy farmers received for their milk last year was lower than it was when the MMB was abolished 24 years ago – and that is the main reason that the number of dairy herds in the UK has collapsed.

 

 

MEP Molly Scott Cato urges the Co-operative Group to source locally

Could co-operative retailers sell good quality food produced on their former farms (now owned by the Wellcome Trust) as MEP Molly Scott Cato advocated two years before the sale?

With foreboding in 2012, she saw the depressing comments from the Co-operative Group that the Co-operative Farms are a ‘non-core’ part of the business, and that attachment to them is sentimental, as indicating that the current generation of co-operative managers shared a short-sightedness about their role in providing customers with access to a reliable source of ‘good food’.

In 2010, Molly co-wrote a paper called ‘The co-operative path to food security‘. In it, she pointed to the increasing volatility of global food prices as speculators moved their gambling activities from financial products to commodities markets, saying, “It never was enough for me that the food I bought in my local Co-op was ethical and fairly-traded; as a green economist I also wanted it to be as local as possible”.  She continued: 

Supermarkets that sell the same corporate products as the rest have lost all but the merest token of a co-operative identity

“The Co-operative shops have not been as successful in this regard as I would like because of their centralised distribution system, but my own Midcounties Co-op has been building up its Local Harvest offer in recent years and I’m surely not the only customer who looks to see whether the vegetables on the shelves have been grown on the Co-operative Farms”.

Now that is no longer an option, the writer wonders if an agreement could be made with local Wellcome (former Co-op) farms to provide local food in Co-op stores – and offer some organic options for those who want to avoid food with pesticide residues?

 

 

 

 

“‘Soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

Last year Ben Webster, Environment Editor of the Times, wrote about Britain becoming reliant on imported fruit and vegetables. The original link no longer works and the environment section no longer exists but the source is recorded here.

Britain’s dependence on imports is leaving it vulnerable to foreign production that could be devastated by droughts and heatwaves resulting from climate change.

Webster lists a number of concerns voiced in a study co-authored by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University:

  • thousands of orchards and farms dedicated to horticulture have been lost;
  • only a third of apples and one in six pears and plums eaten in Britain are grown here;
  • since 1990, production of cauliflowers has fallen two thirds,
  • almost halved for lettuce,
  • and dropped by a quarter for tomatoes and mushrooms.

Lang is urging the government to reverse the decline in horticulture to guarantee supplies of fruit and vegetables needed for a balanced diet.

  • The total land area dedicated to fruit and vegetable production fell by 27% between 1985 and 2014.
  • Only 5,300 hectares grow dessert apple trees, down from 12,800 in 1986.
  • Plum trees have declined even faster, with only 750 hectares, compared with 2,400 in 1986.

Professor Lang said supermarkets were partly responsible because they had squeezed British growers and switched to foreign companies

European fresh food products now underpin UK access to fresh food; huge amounts of fruit and vegetables are imported. Some of them could be grown here. Why does the UK import apples or pears, for example, which could be grown sustainably here?

Neo-liberals prefer the metrics of economic efficiency, free trade and markets. From a public health or environmental perspective, however, such metrics can be part of the problem – leading to damaging intensification.

Professor Lang said: “We have been genuinely shocked by the mismatch of UK supply and demand in horticulture. Our report points out weak links in the chain: low wages, reliance on migrant labour, a suspicion of low returns to growers, a waste of land and resources. The vast importation of produce which could be grown here suggests that UK policy is tacitly a kind of ‘soft’ food imperialism — using others’ land and labour rather than one’s own.”

A Brexit or Bremain paper by Professor Lang and his colleagues may be downloaded here: http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Food-and-Brexit-briefing-paper.pdf

 

 

 

 

Paul Sousek: farming sustainably

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A York reader writes, “I thought you might like this video from ‘The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture ‘ by University of Reading on FutureLearn – one of the more positive parts of my course i thought you would enjoy.”

In this video Paul Sousek, owner of Cottage Farm, speaks about farming sustainably.

The course is calledChallenges of sustainable farming: Discover Climate Smart Agriculture and how it could be applied to farming’.

The first video gives an overview of the course https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/climate-smart-agriculture 

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The editor values the memories of help given by Librarian John Creasey and Sadie Ward (Institute of Agricultural History, University of Reading) when preparing AN OVERVIEW OF INFORMATION ABOUT ALTERNATIVE PRACTICE IN BRITAIN, COLLECTED FROM APRILTO OCTOBER 1996, commissioned by the Centre for Holistic Studies, Mumbai

 

 

 

Government tolerance of unfair trade imperils British food production by failing to deliver justice

 A friend who does not follow farming news in any detail singled out this graph on my computer and I had to say that a more up-to-date version would show even greater falls:

Farm income has fallen sharply on average in Britain and is reported to have plunged by more than 40% in a single year in Northern Ireland, leading to warnings that the industry is facing a crisis. The biggest ‘driver’ was a fall in dairy prices, which dropped by 27% to £480m. The figures were disclosed in a report published by NI’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

The BBC reports that some young people from these British farms are now being compelled to get jobs in agriculture overseas because – though their help is needed – their parents can’t pay them to stay at home and work on the family farm.

Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall said “These grim income figures are a body blow for farming families – but they are also a body blow for the entire Northern Ireland economy. Almost £130m was taken out of the rural economy. That is money that would have been spent locally, meaning towns and villages across Northern Ireland will have felt the impact of hard times hitting the farming community.” 

Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said the figures demonstrated the seriousness of the crisis: “Very few people in Northern Ireland would be able to tolerate a 41% wage cut, but yet that is what our local farms have effectively been hit with”. 

In Britain as she says, the sheer scale of the collapse in farm incomes offers a stark warning that each administration’s department of agriculture should – however belatedly – intervene to address the damaging impacts of unfair prices from processors and retailers. 

For more information go to the Gosling Report. ‘On the eve of destruction’.