Friday, July 20

Britain’s dairy industry faces challenges
A primary industry involves industrial processes and we have to remove our rose-tinted glasses to see how agriculture has to evolve Sir, I write as the former CEO of Express Dairies with no current connection to the milk industry. The attack on supermarkets over farmer milk prices by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (report and letter, July 19), however well meaning, is misinformed. Milk processors have two revenue sources — what they are paid by retailers and what they receive from the sale of byproduct cream. We consume fresh milk mainly at 1.5 per cent fat, it comes off farms at 4 per cent, the surplus is sold for butter or butter oil production. Increased milk production in Australia, New Zealand and Argentina has crashed world market prices for long-life dairy products. The surplus cream price has halved, which accounts for the 4p/litre price reductions to farmers that has caused the furore. Farmer prices have fallen across Europe. Supermarkets have not reduced the prices paid to processors — in fact some have increased their prices to help farmers. Only 50 per cent of milk goes into fresh milk; dairy farmers supplying cheese and powder face the full force of world markets. Last year, UK dairy farmers had one of their best years ever; this year is grim. Unfortunately, that’s farming. Neil Davidson Woodhouse Eaves, Leics Sir, It was good to see celebrity chefs supporting UK dairy farmers, a vital cog within the primary industry of food production and backdrop to much of the rural landscape we so cherish. Their view of farming was somewhat bucolic, as wider issues are at stake; for as Professor Davidson highlighted (letter, July 18), it is not our rising population that concerns us but increasing populations within developing countries that, as they gain wealth, demand a more dairy-rich diet which in turn drives the cost of production down. We, as the consumer, must be prepared to value food higher and to pay more for what should be a premium product if traditional smaller farms are to co-exist alongside larger innovative dairy units required to keep the cost affordable to those with less disposable income, while enabling all farmers to make a profit. A primary industry involves industrial processes and we have to remove our rose-tinted glasses to see how agriculture has to evolve and adapt to new demands on a global scale. Rob Yorke Abergavenny, Monmouthshire Sir, I am married to a dairy farmer. The falling prices and the instability of the industry will only lead to one logical conclusion — dairy farmers will expand or get out. As the chefs and many others have pointed out, big herds have huge implications for the countryside and animal welfare. Is this really what we want to happen? Do we want industrialised farming or do we want to pay a price that reflects the costs and the labour involved in farming in a sustainable way?

Noreen Wainwright Meerbrook, Staffs