It’s time for change to save our dairy farmers

Will dairy cows become a thing of the past?
Will dairy cows become a thing of the past?

I mentioned last week how the price of sugar beet doesn’t seem to have increased much over the last 40 odd years. Spare a thought for the dairy men, who are losing money on every litre they produce. Even by spending a fortune to become super efficient, my understanding is that costs at least 25p per litre to produce.

One of the milk marketing Co-ops made a big song and dance recently about how they had increased the price paid to farmers to 20.1p per litre! They were almost bragging about it.

A farmer tackled them about their practice and they were quick to confirm that they had to have a margin to keep themselves in business.

I wondered if that did not also apply to the chap who gets up at 5am seven days a week, and doesn’t finish till around 6pm and in busy times on the farm, a good deal later. Of course he needs to have a look round the stock before bedtime.

That is OK under normal circumstances but supposing a cow is having a difficult calving, or you need to call the vet out for some other reason, then that just adds onto the other everyday experiences. When a litre of bottled water is dearer in shops than a litre of milk by a substantial margin, there is something radically wrong somewhere.

I do wonder if anyone ever looks at the price of milk in the shops. Recently I followed two couple around our local supermarket and both husbands asked the same thing of their spouse, do we need any milk? Yes, grab a couple of pints was the answer in both cases and the husbands duly obeyed. If it was twice the price, it would still be good value. I have been involved with dairy in the dim and distant past and I thought it was like going to prison 14 times a week. I admire dairy men enormously.

As a lad, I saw many farms which had dairy cows and in Northumberland where I lived until I was 11 years old, every farm had cows and the milk lorry came round every day to collect the milk in churns. Milk was what kept them all afloat.

The calves which the cows produced every year, formed the backbone of the beef industry. In those days, the cows were mainly Short horns, Ayrshires, Red Poll or for a specific market, the Channel Island breeds of Jersey or Guernsey but only in small numbers. Cows were usually bred pure and it wasn’t really until artificial insemination took off that dairy farmers were able to look at crossing their stock with beef bulls to improve the quality of calf to fatten as beef.

Things have changed dramatically over the years, small farms no longer have cows, farms which do have a dairy enterprise usually have a goodly number of cows to make it a worthwhile operation. However with some supermarkets being heavy handed, life is being made difficult. I remember visiting a man in Lancashire who along with five of his neighbours belonged a small co-op supplying a leading supermarket with milk. They wrote six times to tell this outlet they could no longer sustain production at the price they were being paid. After the sixth letter they got a reply to say that the retailer had sent a posse of men round the country to establish the cost of production which at the time was 29.1p per litre so they would pay them 28p!

If this treatment continues, will dairy cows become a thing of the past?