Over the past few months dairy farmers have been forced to accept a series of milk price cuts totalling almost 5 pence a litre. For a typical family farm with 150 cows, producing 1 million litres of milk, that amounts to a reduction in revenue of £45,000 a year. In many instances, all of the profit they would have made and more.
Only six months ago prices were rising and farmers were being told that the future looked bright for dairy, with a growing world demand for milk and dairy products. The National Farmers Union (NFU) urged farmers to “Grow to compete”, in the simple belief that if we produced another 4 billion litres of milk a year, theUKtrade deficit would be magically redressed. But, the reality is that as production goes up, prices go down and farmers are subjected to a sickening rollercoaster ride of price volatility.
I have repeated for a long time that what British dairy farmers need is value not volume. To simply harness ourselves to the treadmill of greater milk output serves only to safeguard the margins of those further up the supply chain, whilst compromising consumer choice, cow welfare and farm incomes. The time has come for farmers to regain control of their marketplace and that begins with winning recognition for the value of our product and the way we farm.
Since setting up Free Range Dairy, people have often told me that everyone assumes cows graze in fields, so where’s the new market opportunity in promoting that? Well, true, grazing cows isn’t a new concept – it was there at the very foundation of dairy farming. But, what we have lost sight of is its value in producing great food in a sustainable manner and what better defines British milk than cows in fields?
What the dairy industry needs more than anything right now is for farmers to work together to prevent their milk from running down the drain into the lake of commodity milk that threatens to drown us. If we want to escape the volatility trap, we must let consumers know what’s different about our milk and help them understand the real value in it.
Free Range Dairy Network is holding a meeting in Somerset on the 14th October for anyone interested in winning recognition for grazing their dairy cows. Please come along and join a movement that is trying to make sure we deliver what is right for consumers, farmers and cows. For more details follow this link.