imgres-1The number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has halved in just over a decade with 60 farmers giving up producing milk in December alone – a rate which will see fewer than 5,000 dairy farmers left by 2025, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has reported this week. The Countryside Alliance is in full support of the NFU on this issue. On Monday NFU President Meurig Raymond spoke at the 25th Semex Conference in Glasgow – the first big dairy conference of 2015 – where he drew attention to the current situation with First Milk and set out what he wants to see happen across the board to support dairy farmers at this crucial time. 

• 9,960 dairy farmers left in England & Wales, half the number since 2002.
• Around 60 dairy farmers left farming in December alone.
• At the current rate in England and Wales we could see fewer than 5,000 dairy farmers in just over a decade.

“I and the NFU dairy team met with First Milk the day after their announcement last Thursday”, said Mr Raymond. “I told them that their time scales were unacceptable. I am also challenging them to get out and explain to their farmer suppliers what these changes are and explain how it will impact them. I know that First Milk have their AGM later this month, but the questions need answering now.

“The recent milk price cuts, from most processors, have had a massive impact with some farmers now facing their lowest milk price since 2007, at around 20p per litre. At the same time, farm costs remain some 36 per cent higher than they were eight years ago and the single largest cost component of a dairy farm, animal feed, is more than 50 per cent higher than 2007 levels. This combination has left many producers under extreme financial pressure and fearing for the future of their dairy businesses. You only have to look at the number of dairy farmers now leaving the sector.

“For the NFU, it is important that we focus most on issues where we can make a difference. We cannot reverse world market trends. But I think there are definite areas where we where we can work to improve the situation for dairy farmers.

“We will continue our difficult but necessary discussions with all the processors as well as with retailers. What we want is an economically sustainable dairy industry for the future. As farmers face volatile markets, I’m also convinced that the government can do more to help by ensuring its policies are sympathetic to the current situation and will help farmers and farming businesses continue forwards.

NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said: “These latest figures don’t come as a surprise. Being a dairy farmer at the moment is like being a boxer – on the ropes and taking body blow after body blow – there’s only so much you can take before throwing in the towel.

“I, like my colleagues on the NFU dairy board, are completely appalled by the ongoing price cuts crippling our industry and we are working hard to support our members and their businesses in every way we can.

“Despite the grief many dairy farmers are facing, it’s heartening that the British public is still supporting us. 86 per cent of people tell us they want to buy more British products. We keep hearing on social media how consumers want to help. They can back British dairy farmers by continuing to buy British milk, but also by buying more British cheese, yoghurt and butter. If you can’t find it easily on shelves let the NFU know and ask for it from your retailer. Looking out for the Red Tractor is the easiest way to ensure you are buying food that can be traced back to the farms on which it was produced.”