Last year, over 300 dairy herds were sold. Take out weekends, that’s more than one a day. In the past, herds were usually sold due to milk price affecting viability.
Now, herds are being sold solidly because of labour. Whether this rests at the door of Brexit or the pandemic, it’s hard to say, but there is no escaping that skilled labour in the dairy herd is becoming a serious problem.
This is exemplified by the fact that the majority of herds selling up are 200-, 300- and 400-cow herds.
This is because the smaller herds are able to be managed by family labour, but, in the herds of up to 400 cows, when an important member of the staff leaves and cannot be financially replaced, there is no other option than to sell.
In the bigger herds, the loss of one member of staff can be more easily covered by those remaining
In the bigger herds, the loss of one member of staff can be more easily covered by those remaining.
I did say recently in this column that the spot price would be 50p by Christmas. Even I am surprised that this is exactly what has happened.
Milk is going shorter, with some processors having to purchase a considerable percentage of their supply on spot. These are the smaller processors that touted an impressively high price to gain contracts with the buyers and are now paying the price.
They have previously paid a low price to their suppliers to achieve this and maintain these contracts, but they are desperately trying to avoid price increases to retain farmers. I am afraid they have lost the confidence of the farmer, who, given the chance, will change their milk buyer or exit the industry.
Sad as this is for those who are forced to leave the industry, it will mean domestic milk going shorter and an increased price for those who remain.
I can only hope that fertiliser prices, the greater controls on slurry storage, carbon footprint and so on will force farmers to resist expansion and, for the first time ever, put us in charge of the industry.
This would no longer see us squeezed unmercifully by the larger supermarkets using our hard worked-for wonderful product as a loss leader.
One very exciting development in the dairy industry at the moments is genotyping each cow in your herd and then a bulk sample will be analysed to tell you which cows are high cell count.
This has been developed by a French company now organised by National Milk Records (NMR), which has run a trial with First Milk farmers. This all sounds very good, but it is expensive and will be very useful to farmers who don’t currently milk record to help reduce their cell counts.
Although, I imagine going forward NMR will become compulsory for Red Tractor and the major milk buyers. For those who milk record monthly, a bulk test in between will be very useful.
At home, the other side of the table has purchased some fertiliser (sadly at a high price), but I am tempted by the old Yorkshire saying “When in doubt, do nowt”.