A large number of dairy farmers in the UK are now looking at sustainable, alternative dairy options as the dairy market becomes inhospitable.

We’ve long known that dairy has been embattled by a ‘perfect storm’ of supermarket price-fixing, Brexit, the pandemic, the rise of plant-based milk alternatives and now increased overheads, but the industry’s own research is revealing exactly how many farmers want to jump ship… and how soon.

According to a survey of 700 members conducted by the National Farmers Union (NFU) – arguably the UK’s foremost farmer-interest body – 15 per cent said they are thinking about stopping milk production, while a further seven per cent said they plan to quit completely by 2024.

But it’s not the large producers who are suffering the most. Smaller producers – the ones supplying under one million litres per year – make up the vast majority of the farmers eying up an end to their milk production.

NFU dairy board chair Michael Oakes blamed costs as farmers’ main worry, with feed, fuel and fertiliser as the top concerns. More than three-quarters of respondents also lamented having to shell out more money to meet increasingly stringent government regulations. “People are worried about insufficient returns in the marketplace, the impact of government regulation, and the cost of meeting those regulations. As a result, some are looking to retire earlier than they had planned or changing farm sectors,” said Oakes, as reported by the Farmers Guardian. “This is just a snapshot of where we are, and to be honest, I am surprised the figures were not worse.”

Oakes also said that processors – the companies like Arla and Muller who buy milk from producers and sell it to supermarkets – were also feeling the pressure of declining supply, despite offering higher prices to farmers. So much so that there is a ‘real concern’ that they will not be able to fulfil supermarket orders. “There is real concern that processors will not be able to supply their customers if production does not increase. Arla is offering 50ppl from July with others following in August, but it is not enough to drive up supply,” said Oakes.

The NFU signalled some hope that farmers would be able to avoid the inevitable now that the UK was no longer tied to Europe following Brexit and a free trade agenda, in that there are new opportunities to sell to markets in Europe and further east. But with some farmers looking to exit dairy within two years, it seems that any such trade agreements simply won’t come quickly enough.

Given the UK government’s failure to materalise many of the free trade promises it made prior to Brexit, if we were dairy farmers, we wouldn’t hold our breath. Instead, we would look to alternative, more sustainable and future-proof uses of our land.

Farmers are increasingly looking to get a piece of the alternative milk market by growing oats and nuts, but for those whose land is unsuitable for crops, other prospects include vertical farming, solar farming and government schemes promoting land stewardship and rewilding.

Original source: https://www.surgeactivism.org