A week ago I attended a local meeting arranged by Farmers for Action (FFA) at which David Handley highlighted the need for the British dairy industry to stop promoting increased milk output without first securing markets for that extra milk.
An estimated 200 dairy farmers, concerned about the recent downward spiral in milk prices, were present at that meeting. Several questioned why, when so much of the milk we produce here is sold on the domestic market, do global commodity prices have such a big impact on the milk price in the UK? In light of all the calls to ramp up production to feed a hungry world and concerns about future food security, one would expect to find a hungry market eager to buy British milk and dairy products, demand outstripping supply and a sharp rise in prices. So why are we now witnessing the opposite?
Unfortunately, the industry is increasingly controlled by those seeking to extract as much profit as possible from milk on its journey from farm to fridge. The fact is, the British dairy industry is not being run for the benefit of the people who produce milk, nor those who consume it. Instead, retailers decide what’s best for us whilst those selling inputs and advice to farmers urge us to push up production to drive demand for their products and services. Even the National Farmers Union (NFU) has called for farmers to “Grow to Compete”, caught up in the hyperbole designed to scare people into believing that intensification and industrialisation of food production is our only path to salvation.
British dairy farmers are here to feed the people of Great Britain– not to fund an enviable lifestyle for those who are steering us towards intensification and industrialisation to make fat profits from food. Pushing up cow numbers and milk yields does not appear to be feeding the hungry – it is simply creating a state of perpetual surplus to ensure that retailers can squeeze the price paid to suppliers.
What milk producers need is real change – not voluntary codes or industry strategy documents. It is time farmers got together to change the way milk is perceived and valued. Free Range Dairy is working to deliver a clear message to consumers about the real value of milk from British Farms. Only then will we escape the damaging effects of price volatility and ensure that farmers have an alternative to the “get big or get out” future.
We are holding a meeting for dairy farmers committed to grazing their cows, in Somerset on October 14th. I urge anyone who wants to escape the treadmill of pushing for more and more milk to come along and learn more about the Free Range Dairy vision. We need farmers to sign up and help us engage with those who buy and consume milk and dairy to secure a brighter future for British farmers. It doesn’t matter who you currently supply your milk to, whether or not you have a market for free range milk today, you can still become a registered Free Range Dairy producer. We are not looking to circumnavigate existing processors and supply chains – we want to work with them.
By joining the Free Range Dairy Network, producers can win recognition for a clearly defined system of milk production, founded on seasonally grazing cows. If we want value in our milk, we must instill value in the way we farm – it’s as simple as that. If we do not distinguish our milk from the rest of the world, it will forever be regarded as a cheap global commodity.
You can find out more details of the Free Range Dairy Means Business event by clicking here. We are asking attendees to pay £10 to cover lunch and some of our costs. I hope you will consider it worthwhile.