Will small dairy farms in the East be replaced by “super dairies”?
NewsMonday 14 January 2013
BBC’s Inside Out East, which will be aired tonight (Monday 14 Jan 2013) on BBC One East at 7.30pm, will reveal that small dairy farms in the east of England may be replaced by industrial-scale “super dairies”.
Farm economist Sean Rickard, who was the former economist to the NFU, said that the future lies with these large-scale "super dairies" housing thousands of cows that never roamed outside.
There used to be thousands of dairy farms across this region of the UK, however, there are now just over 200 remaining.
More and more producers are leaving the industry as the prices big processing companies pay farmers has dropped recently. This drop has been caused by a recent drop in the world price for milk.
Whilst speaking to the BBC, Rickard said: "All my life we've been losing dairy farms. I think I'm being kind by telling the truth. The trend is against smaller units. Bigger units are the future. They can compete. All smaller units can look forward to is greater pressure until they are forced to give up,"
However, some farms are going against the grain and dispute Rickard’s claims. The Strachan family who farm at Rendham in Suffolk, and founded Marybelle dairy firm, 10 years ago, are a good example of this.
Rather than selling their milk to large processors, the Strachan family make and market fresh milk and other dairy products themselves. They source their milk from local farms and then go on to sell it using local shops, supermarkets and milk rounds.
Also speaking to the BBC, James Strachan said that local producers still have their place. He said:”We have grown from nothing to a business supplying four million litres of milk a year. People want locally-produced dairy products."
The UK is currently still self-sufficient when it comes to the production of fresh milk and cream, however, around half of the higher value products - cheese and butter for example - is imported.
The smaller UK producers are being put under more pressure due to worldwide milk producers becoming larger and more efficient.
In fact, a large number of them are actually struggling to break even, despite their annual EU subsidies that average £32,000 per farm.
The cost of production can be cut vastly with the use of large scale “super dairies”. But what are these “super dairies”?
Well, they are large, industrial-scale units that are capable of housing thousands of animals. They cut the cost of production due to economies of scale and their backers are claiming that animal welfare standards are higher.
However, their critics are arguing that they are energy intensive and they increase food miles whilst also adding to the demise of small farms.
In the last decade the number of dairy farms in England has fallen by 4% a year, according to the BBC, and in the East region, the number has dropped from over 1000 to just 222.
Milk production, however, has not fallen as a result, as herds have grown and milk yields have increased in cows.
A spokesman for Dairy UK, which represents milk producers, processors and distributors, dairy product manufacturers and dairy farmers, told the BBC: "There is room for all the different production systems and sizes of farm in British dairy farming, whether they be large or small, housed or extensive.
"And all the different sizes of farm and types of production system can be run efficiently."
See more in Inside Out on BBC One East on Monday at 19.30 GMT.