Blaise Tapp: Our farmers aren’t just milking sympathy

Can dairy farmers survive the milk price crisis?
Can dairy farmers survive the milk price crisis?
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There is an old, some would say unkind, saying which goes along the lines: “You never see a farmer on a bike.”

It is usually trotted out as a punchline by those angered at frequent tales of woe from members of our agricultural community. We often hear from ruddy faced men in wellies how the farmers of Great Britain are being pushed to breaking point thanks to volatile markets and tumbling prices.

The trouble is lots of folk have as much difficulty sympathising with our nation’s farmers as they do with City Bankers or disgraced politicians. To many the pleas of poverty and hard times is difficult to reconcile with magnificent homes and gas guzzling 4x4s that some farmers seem to possess. Of course this isn’t the reality for the majority but perception is everything and in the court of public opinion farmers often struggle to attract much support.

In a different lifetime I enjoyed a happy two-and-a-half years living in the bleating heart of rural middle England.

I became good friends with those who worked the land and developed something approaching an understanding of what it takes to put food onto our dinner tables. Among my acquaintances were landowners, their staff and long suffering tenant farmers and I heard about all the challenges they faced and, on occasions, I had a degree of sympathy for their plight.

But despite this brief dalliance with life down on the farm I find it very difficult to see a way out of the latest crisis to affect our farming industry - the price of milk. We are beginning to see signs of a rising revolt from the tractor drivers of Great Britain who are incensed that it is costing dairy farmers money to provide the country milk to pour on its cornflakes.

We have already seen farmers ‘confiscate’ milk from the chilled aisles of supermarkets in protest of, what they say, is the systematic destruction of a business, that in the case of many, has been in their families for generations.

Most dairy specialists are now being paid an average of less than 24p a pint of the white stuff, compared to the 30p they say it costs them to produce it. The amount paid to dairy farmers has already slumped by 10 per cent in 2015 alone and there is no sign of this figure improving any time soon.

At a time when the provenance of food is perhaps as important to consumers as it ever has been it seems that cow juice is one of the few things that we are willing to skimp on. There aren’t many major chains where you cannot pick up four pints of milk for a quid or less with some stores knocking it out for as little as 89p per giant plastic bottle full of the stuff. Personally, I am proud to say that I shop local and enjoy discovering local delicacies as much as the next gourmand but would I pay more for my pint of milk? I very much doubt it.