January 19: Amanda Ball: How you can help save dairy industry

MAKE no mistake about it – the threats to the future of the British dairy farming industry are very real. Farming families who have shaped our countryside for generations are going out of business.

The number of dairy farms has been falling for decades. Twenty years ago, there were more than 30,000 registered holdings across the whole of Great Britain; now there are fewer than 11,500.

According to latest figures 60 farmers left the industry in December alone, and numbers in Yorkshire have fallen by more than eight per cent over the past year.

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The challenges facing the men and women who helped put milk in our glasses and dairy products on our table are considerable.

The global dairy market is more volatile than it has been for generations. The price farmers receive for milk has fallen dramatically and many are 
saying they are unable to cover their costs.

There has also been a slump in dairy commodity prices such as butter and milk powder due to a supply and demand imbalance, and the impact of this has been made worse for farmers by the Russian export ban.

The UK has a significant trade deficit in dairy products, meaning we import more in value than we export. This gap increased in 2013, with cheese imports being the main driver.

The price the public pays for four pints of milk has, on average, fallen by around 12 per cent since this time last year.

At the lower end of the range, recent prices have seen four-pint containers of milk being sold for as little as 89p, with some stores offering further promotional discounts.

Competition is currently fierce amongst the supermarkets and whilst some have explained the price cut lies with them for the benefit of the customer, farmers feel charging such low prices devalues what they take huge pride and care in producing.

To make things yet more challenging, last week co-operative milk buyer First Milk announced it was making changes to payment arrangements for its member suppliers by deferring milk payments by two weeks; this is to create a cash injection to put finances and the business on a stronger platform.

Undoubtedly, these are very challenging times for dairy farmers in general, and First Milk suppliers in particular.

As a result, DairyCo is offering consultant support, funded through the levy, to help any affected farmers assess the immediate impact from the potential cash-flow challenges from the current market situation. This will help them define an approach for the coming weeks and months.

There is no denying that these are difficult times but they are far from hopeless, and our dairy farmers have faced tough times before. With the support of shoppers across the country, the industry will survive and can thrive once more. Here’s how you can help.

Shoppers are increasingly asking questions about the food they buy. So speak to your retailer and ask how their sourcing policy supports farming in Britain across all dairy products, not just milk.

You can also Trust The Tractor – Red Tractor is the largest food assurance scheme in the UK. It ensures the food you buy is traceable, safe to eat and has been produced responsibly – from farm to fork.

The Red Tractor logo on not just on milk packaging, but on other products such as butter, cheese and yogurt, is a guarantee that the dairy food or drink product you are choosing to buy meets rigorous standards of food safety, environmental protection and animal health and welfare.

The flag in the Red Tractor logo, for example the Union Flag, indicates the origin of the produce. Red Tractor Farm Assured milk and dairy products is world class, produced on farms that are managed by highly professional, well-qualified and caring stockmen.

In summary, the dairy industry matters. Dairy farmers keep our countryside beautiful, and dairy products all around us – not just as milk in the fridge at home, but morning coffee shop lattés, cheese ploughman’s sandwiches at lunchtime, and yoghurts and desserts which finish off an evening meal.

Dairy farming is the fabric of British society. Farming families have shaped our countryside and they would greatly appreciate your support. Visit www.thisisdairyfarming.com or follow us on Twitter @thisisdairy.

Amanda Ball, head of marketing and communications at DairyCo, a levy-funded, not-for-profit organisation working on behalf of Britain’s dairy farmers.