Organisations working together to help hard pressed dairy farmers

Published 24 March 16

A cross-industry forum earlier in March (Tuesday 15 March 2016) to look at ways of supporting dairy farmers in the challenging months ahead have agreed to work together for the future of the industry. The ‘Allied Industries Forum’, dubbed #Decisions4Dairy, was organised by the NFU, AHDB Dairy and NFU Scotland and included representatives of banks, feed companies, consultants, vets, accountants, other farming unions and the farming charities.   

The organisations met at Stoneleigh to discuss the plight many dairy farmers face in the light of the on-going financial pressures being experienced by the industry and the need for farmers to access accurate and unbiased information and need to know where to go for this information. AHDB Dairy strategy director Amanda Ball, says “The discussions were very honest, open and frank and the stark reality of what some dairy farmers are experiencing was expressed in no uncertain terms. But there is no quick fix for the industry’s troubles.

However, there are many organisations which can use their access to farmers to guide them through what help and support is available. All those represented at the meeting agreed that they have a role in signposting farmers to this information and the options available to farmers but we must also stress that change is essential in some cases but does not necessarily mean exiting the dairy industry. There are alternatives available. But the longer farmers leave it to make a decision, then the fewer the options.”

Checklist to help decision making

William Neville’s 12 key questions, shared at Agrihive’s meeting late last year, form a good basis for all to start discussions with dairy farmers on their strategy to survive periods of low milk prices.

  1. Have you the mind-set to take control of your own destiny? Or do you feel bewildered and a hopeless victim of circumstances?
  2. Is dairy farming right for you and your family? What are your plans for inheritance? Are you doing the right thing for your non-farming family members?
  3. What will you need to invest in your facilities in the next 10 years? How will you fund it and justify it?
  4. Do you REALLY know your cost of production?
  5. What is the realistic future milk price? Are you looking at the evidence or living on hope?
  6. Have you worked out whether you are producing what your milk purchaser really wants? ie Are you maximizing your return under your milk contract? 
  7. What are you really paying yourself per hour? What can you afford to pay yourself and remain competitive? Would you be better off paying someone else and trying to add value to other parts of the business? What are your other skills? How much could you earn off farm part-time or full-time?
  8. Might there be a day when you will find yourself stranded without a milk purchaser at all?
  9. Are you buying all your inputs at best prices, and when did you last check alternatives?
  10. Are you ruthlessly and honestly benchmarking your performance and constantly trying to identify ways to incrementally improve performance?
  11. Have you got your eyes open for niche opportunities even if they start small?
  12. Do you have the right skills for the technologically and market driven global dairy industry of the future?