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Britain Turns To Imports As Dairy Farmers Quit

British dairy farmers have continued an exodus this year which has seen their numbers halved in the last decade and turned the country into a liquid milk importer, an industry leader says.

Lyndon Edwards, chairman of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF), said 14 farmers a week were still leaving the industry due to low milk prices and negative profit margins.

“As long as it is not profitable to produce milk in the U. K., it (the number of dairy farmers) is going to go down and down,” he told Reuters Sept. 16 at the industry’s major annual gathering, the Dairy Event and Livestock Show.

Edwards said the industry had halved to 17,060 dairy farmers in the last 10 years, leading to daily imports of one million litres of liquid milk last year to meet Britain’s daily requirement of 18 million.

Britain used to exceed its European Union milk quota but in the last couple of years there has been a shortfall. In 2008, U. K. production fell below the EU quota by 1.46 billion litres.

“A similar trend is continuing this year and I can say quite confidently that it will continue in the long term unless processors, retailers and food service start working together in order to secure future supplies and commit to sourcing home-produced fresh liquid milk and dairy products,” Edwards said.

The average price paid to British farmers for milk had fallen nearly 20 per cent in the last 12 months to about 22 pence per litre (36 cents), down from 27 pence a year ago, he said.


British farmers have not so far, however, joined their counterparts in continental Europe in taking action to protest against low prices.

Dairy farmers in several European countries including France, Belgium and Germany, have held demonstrations and held back milk as they call for more government support.

“Dairy farmers in (continental) Europe do have a tendency of being militant. They have a far more effective track record. When they shout the governments take notice while that doesn’t seem to be the case in the U. K.,” Edwards said.

Industry sources said, however, that there were some positive signs with world prices beginning to climb.

Mike Houghton of farm consultants Andersons said skimmed milk prices in New Zealand had risen quite sharply during the last few weeks although they remained below intervention levels in the European Union.

“Perhaps we have some glimmers of hope,” he said, noting a pickup in slaughter rates in the United States had started to bring down production while demand in China was “back on track” after a tainted milk formula scandal last year killed at least six toddlers and made almost 300,000 sick.

RABDF’s Edwards also said 99 per cent of dairy farmers in Russia were reporting losses and its dairy union was forecasting a milk deficit this coming autumn.

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