Herefordshire dairy farms, along with others nationwide, are grappling with concerns over volatile markets, insufficient returns, and the substantial on-farm investments required, prompting them to reconsider their futures.
A recent National Farmers' Union (NFU) intentions survey highlighted that 9 per cent of nearly 600 dairy farmers believe they might cease milk production by 2025, a rise from 7 per cent the previous year. Additionally, 23 per cent expressed uncertainty about continuing milk production beyond 2025.
The survey, conducted between 5 July and 30 July 2023, with 590 dairy farmers participating, also revealed that a staggering 87 per cent are apprehensive about the ramifications of government regulations. Feed prices (84 per cent), energy prices (83 per cent), and cash flow and profitability (80 per cent) were identified as significant factors that could hinder milk supplies.
Hope Mansell farmer and NFU regional dairy board chair, Rob Davies, emphasised the positive long-term outlook for dairy markets, given the rising global demand. However, he pointed out that dairy farmers' resilience is being strained by inflationary pressures, returns below production costs, and increasing administrative burdens. Davies stressed the importance of collaboration between the government and the NFU to capitalise on future trade deals without being hampered by challenging environmental and regulatory legislation.
National NFU dairy board chair, Michael Oakes, who represents sector interests across the country, including in Herefordshire, highlighted the pressing need for resilient and collaborative dairy supply chains. He called for the introduction of new industry-wide regulations on contracts to support more transparent and accountable supply chains.
The NFU is advocating for the extension of Defra’s Slurry Infrastructure Grant to cover more areas and reduce the minimum spend threshold. This move is in response to 91 per cent of dairy farmers citing the scale of investment, such as suitable slurry storage, as a primary factor for increasing milk production.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) data from April 2023 indicates a 4.8 per cent decline in dairy producers in Great Britain from the previous year, with an estimated 7,500 dairy producers currently operating.
The NFU is urging for future environmental support schemes, like the Sustainable Farming Incentive, to be financially appealing and accessible to dairy farmers.