Royal assistance is being leant to dairy farmers as they bid to survive a sustained period of plunging milk prices.
Seven farms are closing each week across Britain at present, with falling prices paid to farmers for milk from their herds a continuing trend over the past 12 months. Some farmers are receiving as little as 20 pence per litre; average returns which are well short of covering production costs.
In a bid to slow a longer term decline in the dairy industry - more than half of Britain’s dairy farmers have gone out of business since 2002 - The Prince of Wales’s charity, Business in Community, runs The Prince’s Dairy Initiative to give business support to dairy farmers across Britain.
As part of the scheme, 91 dairy farmers, including a couple from the Yorkshire Dales, were welcomed to The Prince’s Highgrove home in Gloucestershire yesterday.
They gathered to mark the success of the initiative at the end of its third year which, delivered in partnership with industry levy payers’ organisation DairyCo, has seen all 216 farmers involved since it started remain in business despite the difficult times facing the sector.
The initiative aims to increase the diversity and long term sustainability of the British dairy sector by offering a package of tailored business support to small and medium sized dairy farms.
Farmers participate in practical workshops delivered locally by dairy sector experts on topics such as herd health, soil and slurry management, nutrition and how to approach bank managers for financial support.
Yesterday’s event at Highgrove was also a chance for The Prince of Wales to hear first-hand about the challenges farmers are facing as a result of the current milk price crash. The Prince met every farmer at the reception and said a few words to the group as a whole.
Dairy farmers Richard and Sarah Weatherald, who run a 100-head herd of dairy cattle in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, said they had benefitted greatly from the support of the initiative, saying: “You never stop learning. It is good to get off your own farm meeting different farmers and both workshops have delivered thus far.”
Stephen Howard, chief executive of Business in the Community, said it was important that operations like those run by the Weatheralds in the Dales remained viable.
“Dairy farmers are key to a thriving rural economy and the lifeblood of prosperous rural communities. They have a higher turnover than other farming enterprises and employ a number of people in their local community. The practical support provided by The Prince’s Dairy Initiative has never been so crucial and we are delighted to be celebrating the programme today in the presence of HRH The Prince of Wales, whose leadership and vision inspired it.”
The pressures facing the industry have become so acute over the past year due to a combination of oversupply of milk in Europe, reduced demand for dairy products from China and the Russian ban on imports.
The global markets that dictate the price of exported butter and cream have a direct impact on how much the processors can pay British dairy farmers.
Lyndsay Chapman, commercial director at milk buyer Dairy Crest and chairman of The Prince’s Dairy Initiative, said: “This is an important time to support vulnerable farmers. I hope that today has made the farmers see how valued they are, and given them the confidence boost they need to continue dairying.”