Category Archives: Middlemen

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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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.

 

 

Progressive Protectionism, Colin Hines – summary relating to food security

colin2-book-coverLocalised and secure labour intensive production would return a sense of hope for the future and economic security for the majority.

Decentralised infrastructure projects would focus on a decades long, multi skilled programme of energy refits of millions of dwellings, a shift to localised renewable energy and food production and building efficient local transport and flood defence systems.

In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn.

At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its population of 65 million, let alone the 8 million more projected in the next 15 years. In 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years.

The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from food exporting countries; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might become.

These threats can be reduced, but are unlikely to be totally avoidable, even were the UK to increase enormously its present levels of food production, significantly cut food wastage and dramatically change its eating habits, eating far less meat.

Pressures on the UK’s food security are here to stay. As a big importer of food we can’t escape the threats posed by its future price and availability, caused by the increasing global population and rising affluence of sections of the world. As a food trading nation, Britain relies on food imports to feed itself and adequate exports of food and other goods and services to pay for these.

If exports reduced, reliance on global borrowing or tax increases would increase to cover the gap. This assumes that there will be adequate surplus food on the global market to meet our import needs.

food-miles-to-britain

Click for clearer picture – source: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

The highest proportion of food and drink waste in the food chain occurred in households with 7 million tonnes being thrown away in the UK in 2012. Manufacturing contributed the second largest proportion of waste, at 26% (3.9 million tonnes), followed by hospitality with 6% (0.92 million tonnes).

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Colin adds that in the absence of supplies of imported rock phosphate, phosphorus rather than nitrogen might become the main constraint upon crop yields, in which case we would have to ensure rigorous recycling of animal manures, human sewage and slaughterhouse wastes. These measures demand more human labour, and more even dispersal of both livestock and humans around the country.

elm-farm

In a paper on the subject, Lawrence Woodward of the Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm, above) says:

“What are the technical problems involved in (feeding the world) organically? There are no really significant ones in the developed world. Of course there is room for improvement – for example weed control techniques could be better, progress can still be made on certain disease problems such as finding more blight resistant potato varieties – but there are no technical obstacles that would prevent organic farming producing enough food in the developed world. Just as long as it is not expected to maintain the chicken at 36p per pound type of diet.

“The obstacles to organic farming are economic and are governed by policy. Where this is sympathetic as in Germany and Denmark, a significantly large switch from conventional to organic production can occur without major difficulty.

“In resource poor countries organic farming, with its emphasis on biological Nitrogen supply, on maintenance and enhancement of organic matter, and on soil and water protection, is arguably the most appropriate farming system and the most sensible approach to feeding people”.

(Colin continues) I am a huge fan of most of the work of Global Justice Now. Their proposals are that foreign aid should be used to build up decent welfare states, sustainable public transport systems, environmentally friendly energy access for all. It should also support small-scale farmers producing healthy food primarily for themselves and local communities, and to help cooperatives and small business to produce for local and regional markets.[77]

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture would be changed under the World Localisation Organisation (WLO):

wto-and-poor

The vision expressed by the WTO agreement is of an integrated global agricultural economy requires that agricultural commodities be transported long distances, and be processed and packaged to survive the journey. When account is taken of all energy inputs, global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector. Thus international agricultural trade policies are likely to substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions and make climate objectives much harder to achieve.

Under the WLO all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food. They would only export and import for the end goal of helping move towards maximum sustainable local production, whilst fostering rural regeneration. Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained where feasible from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region. Those countries providing food exports should use the funds to increase their own level of food security and in a way that benefits rural communities.

Colin Hines:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Hines   

http://progressiveprotectionism.com/wordpress/

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking food supplies from Turkey and Morocco?  Time for change!

On BBC Radio 4 today it was reported that some supermarkets are limiting sales of fruit and vegetables.

veg-2shortage

A newspaper elaborates: “Morrisons and Tesco have limited the amount of lettuce and broccoli after flooding and snow hit farms in Spain. Shortages of other household favourites – including cauliflower, cucumbers, courgettes, oranges, peppers and tomatoes – are also expected. Prices of some veg has rocketed 40% due to the freak weather. Sainsburys admitted weather has also affected its stocks”.

HortiDaily reports on frost in Europe in detail (one of many pictures below) and the search for supplies from Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia.

snow-2spain

A former Greenpeace Economist foresees these and more persistent problems in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism.

Colin Hines reminds us that in 2014 the UK supplied just over half (54%) of its food supply. The EU was by far the next largest supplier at 27%. It is clear that we depend on Europe to keep ourselves fed. He adds:

“At present the UK can only feed around 60% of its present population of 65 million, let alone the around 8 million extra projected in the next 15 years. The UK’s food vulnerability could worsen for a number of reasons. The global availability of the food supplies that the UK at present imports could be dramatically reduced, due to rapidly rising global demand, particularly from Asia; or increased domestic demand from the countries that we at present import from; or if we are unable to afford whatever the global prices might rise to”.

And, presciently, “the threat to UK food security could be more serious should increased global demand combine with other potential problems such as climate change”.

govt-ccc-header

A 2013 report from the UK government’s official climate change advisers warned that droughts could devastate food production in England by the 2020s. Hines advises: “The answer has to be to heed the Sustainable Development Commission’s call ‘to produce more food from less land and to eat differently, specifically to eat more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy, and to waste dramatically less”.

To this he adds the need to halt as rapidly as possible the UK’s population growth, by curbing present levels of migration and reducing it to more sustainable levels, bearing in mind the numbers we will be able to feed predominantly from our own resources.

Finally he focusses on another area of import dependence.  A 2007 study, ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie, estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant, “including far less meat consumption, feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues; returning human sewage to productive land; dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings, rather than concentration in large farms; local slaughter and food distribution; managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure; and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers”.

Time to ‘retool’ our provisioning?

“UK agriculture is also reliant upon imported energy, fertiliser, seeds and machinery. So should the availability of such imports become limited because of purchase by more affluent countries, or were we to become unable to afford to purchase such imports in the quantities required, then our domestic agriculture itself would be deprived of such essential inputs”.

And, essentially,  give our food producers – from farmers to small-holders – a fair price covering costs of production plus.

 

 

 

What does Brexit mean for Britain’s food?

A “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development” exposed

In Farming UK, Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy – a Lancashire hill farmer before becoming an academic and establishing himself as a leading expert on food issues – has said that leaving the EU will expose a “decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development.”

Stephen Devlin, an economist with the New Economics Foundation, says, “Now more than ever, with enormous economic and political uncertainties in the air, we need to consciously plan the future of the essential food and farming sector.

“Do we want a sector that is increasingly automated and concentrated, or do we want more diverse growing patterns and more farming jobs?”

A just-in-time food system that could easily be dislocated 

Professor Lang told Farming UK that, in the 1980s, the United Kingdom was 82% self-sufficient in food. This had fallen to 61%. The country was running a food trade gap and the fall in the value of sterling since the EU referendum had made imports more expensive.

Over the last 30 to 40 years a food revolution had resulted in a longer food chain and longer storage. Tesco had adopted its just-in-time system from Toyota. At any one time under this just-in-time system there were just three to five days of food supplies in the UK. “It is highly dislocatable,” said Professor Lang.

He said the UK food system was one in which the farmer made very little from the total money generated. All the money is made elsewhere

Lang said food traders ruled the modern food economy and millions of food contracts depended on cross continental supply chains. The food system was heavily tied into Europe. To sever this would be a task “awesome and unprecedented in complexity.”

In an article currently inaccessible on NEF’s website, Stephen Devlin presents a chart showing net EU food imports.

CHART

food-graph-imports

He adds: “It’s crucial that we don’t just blindly increase production in general to produce more of the commodities that we are already exporting, like cereals and milk. Instead we need to produce a more diverse range of produce more in line with what we actually eat – like more fruit and vegetables. In fact, a more diverse farming system may also have environmental benefits”.

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Article reference via search engine:soursce-food

 

 

 

 

Any subsidy should favour the smaller farmer

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James RB Odgers, from Bridgwater, Somerset, writes in response to an FT editorial “Britain’s farmers will need help after Brexit”. He came into farming 15 years ago after a broad experience on the boards, public and private, of many companies across the UK and Europe:

Our model avoids as many subsidies as possible, to see if farming can be profitable without them. The model provides opportunities for families to run their own small-scale, traditional farming businesses on our land (below) using share farming agreements and selling through a common brand. Read more here.

stream-farm

Coming into farming as an outsider, some issues appear obvious. 

First, any discussion about subsidies needs to address the oppressive role played by supermarkets

Their power should long since have been curtailed under antitrust or oligopoly legislation had any government had the guts to take them on. These leviathans dictate pricing and have a distressingly accurate reputation for driving profit out of the farming sector — whatever their massive public relations departments may claim otherwise.

Farms have had to increase in scale if they are to survive such an onslaught 

This has led also to increasingly precarious methodologies that rely on unsustainable inputs that are also under the control of giant and unaccountable corporations. Four years is quite enough time to address this — and there would be the added advantage of removing much of the waste that the system engenders: up to a third of all food purchased currently being thrown away.

Second, the allocation of many subsidies is not, as you write, based on food production but on land ownership

It cannot be justifiable that the more land I own, the more money I receive from the public purse. A graduated subsidy is what is needed (if any), tilted towards the smaller farmer, with an environmental bent and incentives to employ more people. The current trend is towards fewer people working in any capacity on farms and this has led to a relentless degradation of rural communities.

Third, much is made of our so-called moral responsibility for ever-greater yields to provide ever more food for a growing global population

Such an argument is often heard when new technologies are being proposed — usually with more profit as a primary motive.

It is for us to feed our own, first and foremost; we import 40% of our food at present . . .

There is quite enough land on this planet to feed a population far greater than today’s: the answer lies in education and distribution.

 

 

 

March of the mega-farms? No, says Helen Browning, “we need to pay our farmers a fair price for food”

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.

dairy farm closures 13-16

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? 

factory dairy farm

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.”