Who shoulders milk costs?

NBEN 27-07-12 BE 18 Shottle dairy farmer Bill Dilks.
NBEN 27-07-12 BE 18 Shottle dairy farmer Bill Dilks.

A Shottle dairy farmer has this week warned that cuts to prices paid to them for milk will lead to an ‘exodus’ from the industry.

The decision to cut the price paid by some milk processors, which buy milk from farmers to sell onto customers,including big supermarkets, has caused outrage among farmers

Bill Dilks, 68, who has been farming at Lawn Farm for 50 years, says he fears for the future of the industry.

He said: “My son has just taken over from me although I am still involved with the farm. I am concerned for him and the other young people. Dairy farms are not very adaptable. If it finishes there’s very little else.

“When I first started farming there was a living for a family with a herd of 35, which was quite a large herd. Now we have 250 cows and employ a herdsman. A 2p per litre cut will mean the herdsman’s wages. It’s ridiculous.

“There’s going to be a time when, if they don’t rescind this price cut, there will be an exodus of dairy farmers. A lot of them will decide enough is enough and they will sell up. Ultimately they will import milk products and we will end up a bit like the coal mines. You can only squeeze something so much and it shrivels and dies. The industry has been diminished dramatically over the last decade. A dairy farmer a day disappears.”

The biggest processing firms such as Robert Wiseman Dairies, Arla Foods and Dairy Crest, as well as some of their smaller counterparts, are now offering farmers up to 4p less for a litre of milk.

Dairy farmers say that the average 25p a litre price they are receiving for their milk is now less than the 30p per litre cost of producing it, potentially putting them out of business altogether.

Mr Dilks blames big retailers rather than the processors.

He said: “It’s the big supermarkets that have squeezed the doorstep delivery man out and they want a bigger slice of the cake. It’s made things tremendously hard.

“There is no margin – we have just been making ends meet. And if this is taken away we will be vastly out of pocket.”

Dairy farmers and the processing plants have agreed on a voluntary code of practice designed to give farmers more bargaining power. But the National Farmers’ Union said it would not solve the current crisis.