“Three days dumping our milk and there will be no milk in the country” – so said a very angry dairy farmer on Radio 4′s Farming Today this morning. He was part of a mass meeting and protest which took the desperate plea of our crushed and cash starved dairy sector to Westminster yesterday.
This comment I’m afraid just sums up the true powerlessness of our dairy farmers to me. What do you think would REALLY happen if a significant proportion of our milk was thrown away and not sent to the large processors for a couple of days? Do we think Tesco, Asda and the other retailers would let their shelves empty of milk? No of course not! Fresh milk would simply come over from Holland, diverted from yoghurt and cheese production and the consumer would barely notice the blip. Supermarkets would take the temporary hit on prices and market share and sympathy would be lost by British milk.
What needs to happen to make a profitable industry and do we really care? The bottom line is that the British consumer will not pay the sort of price needed by the average British dairy farmer to survive. We all SAY we will but UK consumers buy food on price. It’s a well known phenomenon. Apart from a tiny shrinking minority who have strong principles and buy Organic milk, the rest buy very much on price. Fluid milk has become a cheap as chips staple in the UK. We pour it on everything, add it to everything and then consume it in cheese, yoghurt and even sweets.
We treat milk with absolutely no respect because it’s available at a knock down price. Dairy farmers consequently have a minute income and out of that are expected to produce cows that give us “Happy Feelings” when we look at them as well as thousands of litres of milk each year! What do you think is the first thing to go when a farmer can’t pay his bills each month? It’s a visit from the vet. A sick cow will be left for an extra day ” to see if it gets better ” before the farmer calls a vet. At £50 for an average visit it’s no longer affordable for many.
What happens when the dairy farmer wants to get bigger /more efficient and move his cows inside into better, more manageable facilities where the cows will be clean and comfortable instead of sloshing around in mud filled fields? There are howls of protest against Super Dairies. The public want their cake and to eat it and it just CANT BE DONE under the current system.
My answer, for what its worth, is for the British farmer to raise his prices and start selling British milk as a luxury, niche market product. The few that are doing this already with breed specific milk such as Jersey or Guernsey are bucking the trend. Let the rubbish bulk liquid market come from Holland or wherever. We can do better than that. We should produce Dairy Shorthorm, Guernsey, Channel Islands milk again in QUANTITY and we should buy their milk in the same way that we love and buy regional speciality cheeses – as special products for special occasions or circumstances.
I put Guernsey milk on my cereal – a local farmer here does produce it. He also makes clotted cream with it. Gorgeous. I use less because its high in fat etc but does it taste good? What do you think!!! I pay more for it of course but its special. He produces less but gets more income from less stressed cows.
So, British dairy farmers should go up market and leave the bulk market to others. Gradually there would be a re-education of the public as a consequence and while our total milk consumption/production might go down I guess incomes would be relatively higher.
Over to you all for comments!!