Lifeline support offered to region’s small dairy farmers

Dairy cattle. (S)
Dairy cattle. (S)
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SOME OF the region’s most vulnerable family-run dairy farms are being offered lifeline financial management support as part of a scheme inspired by The Prince of Wales.

The range of prices paid for milk at the farm gate has never been wider in what is the fourth year of The Prince’s Dairy Initiative, said its chairman Mike Stevens, of Müller Wiseman Dairies.

With the scheme being expanded this year into six new regions of the country, traditional small dairy farms in North Yorkshire are among those that are being targeted to benefit from free practical workshops that cover financial management, herd health, nutrition and soil management.

The dairy industry continues to face “unprecedented” challenges, leaving many farmers being paid less than the price of production and it means the plight of the small family dairy herd is under threat, Mr Stevens said.

“This is an important time for us to support traditional family dairy farmers.

“With a wider range of farm gate prices than I have ever seen in my career, The Prince’s Dairy Initiative is helping those in most need to improve their overall efficiency as the industry becomes even more challenging.

“Our experience to-date proves that bringing local, like-minded farmers together delivers real benefit. The problem is that too often the farmers who could benefit the most from this initiative are too remote or too busy to seek support.

“We’re trying to spread the word and reach these farmers.”

The Prince’s Dairy Initiative is inspired by The Prince of Wales and his long-held concern about the future sustainability of UK dairy farming. It is delivered in partnership with the sector body AHDB Dairy and charity The Prince’s Countryside Fund with the support of major UK dairy processors, co-operatives, and supply and feed companies.

In each area of the country where the Initiative is active - including in North Yorkshire - up to 20 dairy farmers who want to increase the viability and efficiency of their business are being sought. Participation is free and eligible farmers should have a dairy herd of fewer than 200 cows, supply their milk on a standard contract and not already be active participants in discussion groups and workshops.

The downturn in the region’s dairy industry is stark. Only a third of Yorkshire dairy farms have survived since the turn of the century - from 1,999 in 2000 to 685 in February this year.

The industry’s decline is long term and has been blamed on price cuts, high input costs and stringent regulation but milk buyers blame the current farm gate price crash on an oversupply of British milk and a weak global demand for dairy products.

According to the latest Defra figures, the average price at the farm gate for a litre of milk fell by eight pence, to 23.66 pence per litre (ppl), between June 2014 and June this year. This week’s decision, therefore, by co-operative Arla, to freeze the price it will pay its farmer members in September at 23.01ppl, is some relief.

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “The continued uncertainty of the markets means we need to remain cautious, but this is a constructive move.”