Every industry has its peculiar factors, but an outstanding feature of the dairy industry is that it has to be a long-term investment. There is no return for about two years, until the cow has produced a calf, and can be milked. By nature, it takes time, and the process is especially unsuited to the level of volatility that has prevailed for several years now.
Not too long ago, our dairy consultant say in our kitchen, and argued with my husband about the need to “put more milk in the tank”, no matter what. In our case, my husband insisted on leaving the calves with their mothers for several weeks. He was told (innumerable times) that this was completely wrong. Get bigger, produce more milk for less input and pare back costs was the mantra – as it was in probably every dairy farm kitchen in the country.
I don’t have to say how hollow that advice now rings when we are being penalised and admonished for producing too much milk. There are a lot of people in suits with spread sheets who may not only have been unable to predict the current depression but who may have contributed to it.
My husband recently met an elderly friend in the supermarket, and not surprisingly (this is the Staffordshire Moorlands), the talk turned to farming. She is of farming stock herself, but she is as bewildered as the rest of us. She told him that she was used to paying £1.40 for four pints of milk, but had recently seen it for as little as 84 pence. Milk is, quite literally, cheaper than water.
In our farming community, everyone has a view of course, and conspiracy theories abound. Someone who works in the dairy industry has told us with “One hundred per cent certainty” that milk is being brought in from Germany at 10 pence a litre to a particular large dairy company in the area. I contacted said dairy company asking where they got their milk and they told me that it came from their 1,000-plus suppliers in the UK. Where is the truth?
As I write this, the future of our dairy farm is bleak. It must be a crazy concept to keep borrowing money to produce something that almost all of us use and which is, somewhere along the line, making money for somebody. But farmers’ lives and homes are so entwined with the production of food that they continue doing it when most serious business people would have thrown the towel in. As a result, they are exploited. How long will it continue?