Dairy farmers in north Northumberland have warned that they face an uncertain future in the face of sharp falls in the price of milk.
Since last summer, the UK’s dairy industry has been hit by significant drops in milk prices, caused by rising supply and falling demand, particularly from China and as a result of the Russian trade ban.
The staggering fall has been driving dairy farmers out of business, with the total number in the UK falling to below 10,000 for the first time.
The crisis is taking its toll on a local level and dairy farmers in Northumberland have spoken of their concern and frustration.
Michael Howie, of Morwick Dairy Farm, which is located just outside Warkworth, described the current situation as a struggle. He said that the price of a litre of milk has dropped to just 24p – 10p down on this time last year.
He told the Gazette: “We need a margin to make a profit and at the moment we are not getting a margin.
“Currently, we need to be at about 26 or 27p a litre to make what we do worthwhile, but we are at 24p at the moment,
“You can make a loss in the short term, but you can’t go on like this for too long.”
Mr Howie said that the current situation is the worst he has known it to be in his 40 years of farming.
He added: “Why should water be more expensive than milk in the supermarkets?
“Hopefully we can ride this out, but we might have to readjust and reduce the number of cows we have. It will be interesting to see how it develops.”
Bobby Maxwell, who has been farming at Doddington Dairy since 1979, admits he is in the same boat.
He said: “We have seen price swings of 3 or 4p, but we have never seen it at 10p-plus. The economics of producing milk is getting to the point of being diabolical.
“The current situation is volatile. It is a concern and we face an uncertain future. If the issue is resolved quickly, it won’t be a huge deal and we will put it down to experience, but if it isn’t resolved, it will be a different story.”
County councillor Glen Sanderson, who is an ex-dairy farmer, branded the current situation a scandal and said that today’s milk prices are similar to when he quit the industry 20 years ago.
This week, MPs called for dairy farmers to be given more protection from falling prices.