I still have a milkman who delivers (quite expensive) milk to the door several times a week but I am glad to see that my back-up sources of milk supply, the local Coop and the fairly local Waitrose, are both relative good guys on this subject.
I heard a farmer on the radio saying that he felt let down – I think he felt let down by just about everybody but I noted that he included farmers’ leaders in the list. I wonder whether NFU President, Peter Kendall, has ever milked a herd of cows (and since you might be wondering – I have (although not very often and not very expertly))? The NFU is now trying hard to look as though it is leading the charge on this subject.
A few thoughts:
- I thought we needed to feed the world – clearly the world doesn’t want to drink milk. If the price of milk is very low then it suggests that we have too much milk and that is true whether that milk is produced in the UK or abroad.
- If farmers are receiving less for their milk than the cost of production then surely they should move into some other form of production which pays better. If this sounds harsh then would it sound harsh if we were talking about any other business?
- Remember that all farmers (almost all farmers) receive direct income-support payments from you in addition to the price they get for their produce. Those payments are what are keeping many dairy farms afloat these days so you are contributing to farmers’ incomes already through your taxes before you go shopping. However, that income support could also be seen as a factor which prevents change in the farming sector. This government tends to look at the income support given to the jobless as a factor which prevents them getting out and looking for a job. The income support given to farmers tends to lessen the incentive for change in the farming community too.
- Remember that the price of wheat is rocketing – there are other crops which can be grown.
- The apparent stranglehold of the supermarkets on the price of milk is partly a consequence of specialisation of UK farming. If more farms were mixed then they would be buffered against the rises and falls of different commodities – and they might also be producing more of their own animal feed and so be buffered against rises in input costs too.
- If supermarkets were getting the best possible deal on radios and passing that on to you the consumer so that you get cheap radios would you feel sorry for radio manufacturers?
- I grew up in a dairy area and when I go back to Somerset I am shocked by the lack of wildlife in the countryside. Yes, the land is green but it isn’t all that pleasant in many places. Some conservationists call the dairy landscape of counties such as Cheshire and Devon ‘green concrete’. High fertiliser use and frequent silage cutting make those bright green fields tough places for hares, lapwings or skylarks.
- Any dairy farmer who put a proportion of his land into agri-environment schemes must feel a little bit relieved that that source of income is secure over the term of the agreement. It’s another form of mixed farming and not putting all your eggs in one basket.
- The price of land hasn’t fallen and hardly ever does. Many dairy farmers are income-poor and capital-rich – they aren’t in quite the same position as classroom assistants or nurses on low pay. When you see farmers protesting at their treatment you are sometimes looking at businessmen with assets of millions of pounds.
I guess that all sounds quite unsympathetic but I do have sympathy for dairy farmers. It’s hard work milking a herd of cows twice a day, every day. But the plight of the dairy farmer is a product of the way that agriculture works and it works in a range of different ways. Farming is a business and the businessmen who are dairy farmers have more options and more public support than many other small businesses and certainly more options than many public service workers.
When you hear people like Lord Haskins and the Agriculture Minister talking about the industry changing what they really mean, but don’t say, is that there are too many small farms which aren’t very efficient in simple economic terms. The plight of the small family dairy farmer is the same plight as the small family grocer’s shop. If you are a hard hearted market-lover (which I am not) then the plight of the small dairy farmer is the market working, rather slowly, to drive efficiency into the industry.
But as I often say in this blog – farming isn’t like every other industry. The difference is the environmental impact. If small dairy farmers were able to prove that their method of farming provided more public goods than those provided by the forces of the market efficiency then they would have a good case for public support. I don’t know evidence like that and i haven’t heard anyone even mentioning it in this case.
Is farming a business like any other? If it is, then we shouldn’t shed too many tears for the dairy industry. But is it?