Almost one in 10 dairy farms across England and Wales – more than 1000 – have closed in the last three years, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). Their graphic (below) was published on the BBC News website in July.
Up to 30% price cut as inputs cost more
These figures increase fears that the traditional family dairy farm sector is collapsing. There were more than 56,000 dairy farmers working in 1980, but only 14,500 last year. An article in the Guardian reports that in 2016, dairy farmers like Somerset’s dairy farmer James Hole, who supplies milk though a processor to most of the biggest supermarkets, found their milk was worth 30% less than it was this time last year.
Processors prefer to deal with larger producers, avoiding the expense of sending tankers on long journeys to pick up milk from smaller and more remote farms and as dairy farmers on low price contracts increase production in order to increase their income, the. resulting glut on the market has driven prices even lower.
This year’s Kingshay Dairy Costings Focus Report showed the rolling average milk price for Holstein/Friesian milk reducing by 5.7ppl to 24.4ppl with continuing increases in ‘market segmentation’: “The highest 10% paid received 31.3ppl, whereas the lowest 10% averaged 18.7ppl.This gap in the rolling annual price paid has widened to 12.6ppl from 6.9ppl in the year to March 2015,” said Kingshay senior farm services manager Kathryn Rowland. The report may be downloaded here.
Will production eventually rest with mega farms, warehouse units, currently forming only 2% of dairy farms, compared with as many as 90% in the US?
Or will government intervene to prevent processors from imposing low price contracts on smaller dairy farmers or in future will all cows live in a so-called ‘super dairy’ farms, permanently confined in an industrial-scale building, no longer grazing in fields during the summer months?
Helen Browning, chief executive at the Soil Association, said mega farms were bad for animals and the environment: “Large-scale indoor animal units such as this are common practice in the United States. Experience there has shown that they impact negatively on smaller, family farms, and can have poor environmental and animal health outcomes, as they produce much more manure than the land close by can use, and usually rely on high levels of antibiotics to control disease.
She ends: “The problems facing the pig and dairy industries will not be solved by supersizing production – this fails to deal with the root cause of the issue. It really should not be necessary for a farmer to milk 1,000 cows in order to make a good living. Instead we need to pay our farmers a fair price for food, while expecting the highest standards of care for our environment, animals and health in return.”