Dairy farmers facing pinta of no return

PUBLISHED: 13:44 26 April 2007 | UPDATED: 15:05 12 May 2010

MILK MONITORS: Bluegates Farm owner Sam Sheppard and herd manager John Day with members of Ashwell WI, and one of the herd. 2332DW14

MILK MONITORS: Bluegates Farm owner Sam Sheppard and herd manager John Day with members of Ashwell WI, and one of the herd. 2332DW14

THE Great Milk Debate has been set up to help secure the future of dairy farms - including one of the last in Hertfordshire. The debate, which is a joint initiative between the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Federation of Women s Institutes

Cows

THE Great Milk Debate has been set up to help secure the future of dairy farms - including one of the last in Hertfordshire.

The debate, which is a joint initiative between the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Federation of Women's Institutes (WI), will bring dairy farmers, milk processors and retailers together to discuss the future of the British milk industry.

In 1995, there were more than 28,000 dairy farms in England and Wales - but by the end of last year there were only 13,000.

Hertfordshire has lost all but a handful of its dairy herds, with Bluegates Farm in Ashwell one of the last farms to produce milk.

Producing milk since 1968, the farm has a long tradition within the village. But like other farms across the country, the future of Bluegates is under threat, with farmers receiving less per litre for their milk than ever before.

Bluegates owner Sam Sheppard said: "At present the industry is in a terminal decline.

"The farm is losing a lot of money and I'm not sure how long we can continue as we are - something needs to be done - and soon.

"Over the years the price of milk has been driven down and farms have had no choice but to accept it, and as a result a lot of farms have gone out of business."

Last year, more than 900 dairy farmers - almost three per day - left milk production, and a further 31 per cent plan to leave within the next two years.

Sam added: "The only way I can see it improving is if the prices go up - but I don't think they will.

"It's at the point where we, like so many farms, need to make the decision whether to produce at a loss, or simply get out.

"I've worked on the farm all my life and I'm going to fight to keep it going.

"Hopefully the meeting will raise the profile of the industry and make people aware of the situation."

Farmers are paid an average of 18p per litre, although this month Sam has received 15p per litre.

Ten years ago farmers received 24.5p per litre.

They are now losing 4p or more on every litre of milk - but there is a profit made on every litre sold in supermarkets.

Ashwell WI member Maureen Hersee said: "The British dairy farming industry is in a desperate situation.

"Unless we stop the decline our communities and the environment will suffer enormously.

"These debates give everyone the opportunity to contribute their views and bring about the necessary changes to ensure that everyone receives a fair deal.

"The last thing we want is to lose the dairy farmers.

"They bring tremendous income to the county and to lose Ashwell's farm would be a tragedy."

Farmers believe that urgent action needs to be taken now in order to redress the balance and ensure that British dairy farmers have a viable and sustainable future.

Herd manager John Day said it was the worst he had known the industry in 30 years.

He added: "How long can you go on, when you're not making any money?

"The future doesn't look bright, and I hate to think what would happen if we were to close - it doesn't bear thinking about."

n The Great Milk Debate started on Monday and will run until May 4, with 90 meetings taking place nationwide.

Ashwell will be hosting the county's only meeting which will take place in the school hall next Tuesday at 7pm.

The debate will be chaired by the Ashwell WI and will feature a number of speakers, including Sam Sheppard, and representatives from the NFU, Milk Distribution Council, Dairy UK, and Tesco.

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