Practical Farm Ideas magazine helps farmers find new methods that improve efficiency. This blog shows how one farmer has gained real control over mastitis in his herd - with zero cases in 130 cows the year we visited him.
The SOS Milk Summit in London showed the passion, and the problems of milk producing farmers. Their anger towards minister Jim Paice was clear, as was his concern. Farmers appeared satisfied with the NFU, who they pay to represent their interests. As I listened to the cheers given to the Chairman Meurig Raymond, the deputy NFU president, when he said that 'enough was enough', I was surprised not to hear farmers questioning whether the Union had done all it could.
Today's problems need immediate solutionsToday we have a situation where a large number of farmers are having a 14% price cut imposed, at a time when costs have risen sharply. Whether the NFU has done enough with contracts, whether producers have done enough to raise milk awareness and make it less of a commodity... all these issues have no bearing on the situation faced today.
Farmers facing a further 2p cut need to get their price restored to the 28p/litre which they were getting earlier this year. They shouldn't be trading on contracts which are so open and favour their buyers, when the farmer has such a long term investment and commitment to the business.
Drawing attention to the problem through direct action is their best hope, short term. Their buyers might react and decide not to impose the August 2p cut. It will be a victory of sorts, but not one which solves the fundamental problem - that milk is vastly underpriced.
Dairy farmers are divided into two groups.A - farmers with cost plus contracts from buyers are getting a much higher price than those outside these contracts, which include the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose. These retailers get a proportion - by no means all - of their milk from farmers on these schemes, and make up the rest from supplies from farms on contracts which allow buyers greater flexibility in the price they pay. Farmers are outside the gold plated schemes for many reasons. They may be in the wrong part of the country; have farms that are too small; can't afford to do the upgrades required; don't want to provide their buyer with their accounts and costings.
B - the bulk of milk producers are outside the schemes and supply on contracts which give the buyer huge flexibility, for many it means the only requirement is that the lorry turns up to collect.
The long term solution requires a major a change in the supply contracts. There needs to be a relationship between the gold plated ones, which are currently paying 30p, and the others. These and other changes can only occur when the farmer has sharper teeth, and that comes through group negotiation.
The farmer can expect little but the minimum from his buyer, who is after all working for the shareholders and owners of the company. Farmers can influence buyers thinking, and lobby to soften any economic blow, but there will be no special cases or pleading. Retailers deal with producers all over the globe, some very much poorer than the average dairy farmer.
Despite the hand wringing and words of support of the minister Jim Paice, government is, as always, in a cleft stick. Inflation is rising faster than wages. Unemployment remains high. Pushing up the price of food by raising the price of milk is no option, politically or legally. Keeping food prices down will win far more votes than encouraging them to be raised. So Minister Paice is in no position to provide much tangible help. Why spend so much time and effort asking him?
The housewife can be persuaded - for a short while and at considerable expense. But while she sees milk as a commodity, and one with a price she knows down to the last penny, her instinct will be to save money and buy cheap.
Practical ways to improve your milk price
Mastitis hits 25% of cows each year
What would you say to a 130 cow farmer who had ZERO cases a year?
Go here for the back issue containing the full back-flushing article (£4.00 in UK)
Go here to read a report on the cost of mastitis to dairy farms http://www.dardni.gov.uk/ruralni/challenge_note_1a_economic_cost_mastitis_dpdb.pdf
Go here to download the Practical Farm Ideas back-flushing article for 99p
Go here to read a Northern Echo article on co-operative negotiation