Clearly British campaign: Dairy exodus sees three Yorkshire farmers quit every month

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UP TO three Yorkshire dairy farmers are quitting the industry on average every single month, compelling proof of an urgent need for clear dairy labelling to help shoppers choose products made with British milk.

As The Yorkshire Post leads a new campaign calling for clear labelling of dairy products to make it easier for shoppers to buy British and support hard-pressed farmers, new figures reveal that North Yorkshire, the region’s dairy industry hotbed, has seen 23 farmers give up milking in the last 12 months alone.

And the sharp, continued decline fuelled by the withdrawal of China and Russia from the export market is being felt across the county, notably in West Yorkshire where nine farmers exited dairy in the last year. There is also one less farmer milking cattle in both East and South Yorkshire than there was a year ago.

In total, 34 fewer dairy farmers are operating in Yorkshire compared to last November and there are just 674 still in business now compared to 1,999 at the turn of the century - two-thirds of Yorkshire dairy farmers have quit since the year 2000. National figures tell of a wider demise.

It is a prolonged tumble of farmgate milk prices that has encouraged many farmers to walk away from dairy. Consecutive average monthly price cuts since February last year have created dairy farming’s worst cash crisis for a generation.

Average milk prices in February 2014 were 33.95 pence per litre (ppl). Now, they are 23.61ppl - more than 30 per cent lower and leaving farmers out of pocket by as much as £100,000.

David Shaw, a dairy farmer near York and regional dairy board chairman at the National Farmers’ Union, gave his backing to The Yorkshire Post’s Clearly British campaign and said: “Many farmers are really suffering and are hanging on by their fingernails, maybe wrongly so but it is what they do.

“We have this older generation of dairy farmers who haven’t done anything else and don’t have a succession plan. If they are a tenant farmer and they retire, they don’t have anything left and they have costs from borrowing from the bank to cover.

“The situation is really serious. I can’t stress it enough. The average farmer is down about £100,000 in the last year - it makes a lot of difference to incomes when you are losing 10ppl. I don’t see how we can continue without having better contracts and clearer labelling.”

He said farmers are optimistic, adding: “It’s been a good grass growing year and we’re recording a higher milk yield, up by about five per cent on last year, but we need more stability so we can get another generation to come in and secure the industry’s future.”

As part of our campaign in support of British dairy farmers, The Yorkshire Post wants retailers and processors to make it clear where the milk used in dairy products is from.

We want the wider food industry to respond too - from restaurants and hotels, to caterers and convenience stores - and for the European Commission to think again carefully after blocking mandatory country of origin labelling for dairy products earlier this year.

For more reporting on our Clearly British campaign, click here.

And sign our petition calling for clear dairy labelling here.