I am really grateful for all the feedback I get on the Free Range Dairy initiative and welcome anyone to submit stories about their own experiences of farming and related matters. Below is a really interesting post from John Lawson who, although no longer farming, finds that his current business faces similar challenges to dairy farms.
The newsletters are very interesting, in particular I like the ‘Case Studies’ as I am very interested to read how the guys on the website are fairing. Are there any more farmers coming on board with their stories? I still think it’s great that a 70-cow herd is surviving out there. Rather 10 dairy farmers of 70 cows than one at 700, a simplistic notion, but one I truly believe in. I am ‘small-minded’ in a positive way. Again, I would state that my not being involved in the field of dairy farming any more does perhaps lend my views to idealism rather than pragmatism.
It’s still particularly bad out there in the wider economy – my small specialist freight transport company has been bobbing along the bottom since the autumn of 2007. I realise that you (dairy farmers) must have had an awful summer. If only the milk processors could have showered you with as much money as you’ve had rain!
The global economy has done for many of us in the west and I am concerned for the UK based dairy farmer regarding the future and cheap overseas competition. The Irish we are told are increasing their milk production by 100%. Where is their faith in the future coming from? Their climate is very similar to ours, they have smaller herds, the family farm does exist, and when they talk of expansion in some cases they refer to going from 75 to 100 cows. Am I misinformed or misread on this? My point is the serious threat of cheaper competition from overseas, and I base my fears for dairy farmers on my experience in the UK road transport industry that has never recovered since deregulation in the 1990’s. Basically the Eastern European hauliers have killed-off many a good and established UK-based haulier. We simply can’t compete. Some hauliers have embraced the situation, employed Poles in their offices and back-load Europe bound trucks at a fraction of the historic price and this is despite the cost of our inputs rising year-on-year. Jobs I did to Europe 15 years ago for £950.00 are being done for £350.00 today. Good for the customer you might say, but bad for anyone trying to make a living in this country. I abhor the situation and we have our politicians to thank for opening up the markets and putting in place the ‘free for all economy’ that implodes upon good established businesses.
If I were a dairy farmer today I’d milk once-a-day the breed of my choice (probably Jerseys, so long as I could find an outlet for the bull calves), I’d invest in good tracks and diverse herb and clover-based pasture, I’d flat-rate feed only any necessary bought-in concentrates, I’d make as much grass silage as possible for year round feeding (if necessary), I’d join a faith in pasture discussion group, concern myself with the ecology of the land and aim to look after the soil so that it looked after me, grow kale to extend the ‘grazing season’, keep as few as commercially viable and look to sustainably survive in as bio-diverse manner as I could. I told you I was an idealist! No doubt you can pick holes in all I list and if there was a blue print for success in dairy farming no doubt you’d be doing it already.
Thank you for your time and keep up the good work.