Financial support vital for non-bovine milk sector survival

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) has requested immediate financial support from the Government for non-bovine milk producers who have seen their businesses devastated because of Covid-19.

In a letter sent on Tuesday, May 12, to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice, the RABDF highlighted the fragile state of the non-bovine milk sector which it fears could face collapse without additional support.

The sector which includes milk, dairy products and meat from the goat, sheep and buffalo dairy sectors has seen much of its market disappear since Covid-19 restrictions were put in place.

This is because many of the producers are supplying the ‘out of home’ catering market, such as deli’s, farmers’ markets and restaurants, which have temporarily ceased trading.

Industry background

It is understood that the UK dairy goat industry is made up of 40,000-45,000 goats producing just under 34 million litres of milk commercially; while England is home to almost 100 goat dairy farms.

There are about two hundred sheep dairy farms in Britain, milking some 20,000 ewes, with milk, cheese and yogurt being the primary food products sold in both these industries.

There is no spot milk price for these milks and with most non-bovine milk processed into fresh short shelf-life products there is no flexibility to withstand market shocks.

As a result, milk is being discarded by many producers and will continue for the foreseeable future. Animals are also being removed from the herd to reduce the amount of milk being produced.

RABDF vice chairman Di Wastenage said: “The non-bovine milk sector is hugely different to the bovine milk sector. Due to their small size, these sectors are naturally sensitive and are not able to withstand significant shocks such as Covid-19.

There is no spot milk price for these milks in this country, so it is extremely important to manage milk volumes to retain stability in the marketplace; otherwise there is only one option and that is discarding milk.

These food products are predominantly sold as short shelf-life fresh products which adds to the issue further.

In addition to the loss in market from the catering sector, there has also been an immediate change in consumer purchasing habits away from premium products to staples and this is significantly impacting sales too.

‘New retail buying habits’

Wastenage added, saying that: “We don’t imagine the marketplace will return after lockdown is lifted and the likely scenario is consumers will continue to follow their new retail buying habits and lower their spend on high value items such as non-bovine milk and milk products.”

Already, the deadweight values for goat carcasses has fallen from £150-180 to £60 for those supplying the premium restaurant trade, which is below the cost of production.

Data from 15% of the goat milk market shows 8,000L of milk per week (14% of total supply) is being discarded, with production being reduced by 20,000L each month by drying off early and removing animals from the milking herd.

She continued: “This sector is trying to adapt to the situation; however, with such a specialist marketplace it takes time to change and we hope the Government will offer immediate financial ‘loss of market’ support from now through to September 2020 to provide the breathing space for the sector to adjust.

“It is disappointing the sector was not included in the hardship fund for dairy farmers which was announced last week [May 6].

“However, due to the small size of the sector we hope the Government can find a small sum of money to support them as, without it, these farms will quite simply not survive,” she concluded.

Dairy farmers receiving a reduced milk price or having to discard milk because of Covid-19 are being urged to fill out a short two-minute survey online.