UK farmers forced to dump milk as Covid-19 knocks processing capacity

Farmers in parts of England say they have been asked to dump their milk as processors struggle to work through their supply.

Taking to social media, one farmer based in Kent said she had to dump 11,500L from her bulk tank.

Another in Wiltshire posted footage of his tank emptying on to the floor on Sunday night (April 5), saying he had been told there would be no milk collected that night due to “staff shortages and slower production”.

He said he had been told milk would be collected the next day but that the processor would only be able to take one day’s production.

It’s not clear how many others have been asked to dispose of milk. Freshways has been contacted for comment but at the time of publication had not responded.

A spokesman for the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said: “It’s a huge concern seeing farmers dumping milk. Rest assured the industry is working hard to try and come up with a workable solution to prevent this.”

Meanwhile, north of the border, Scotland’s largest independent milk processor Graham’s Family Dairy informed its suppliers that it has been forced to skim and dispose of milk at both its Bridge of Allan and Nairn processing facilities.

The firm alerted farmers that it had “significant concern” over its ability to pick up milk from farms in the coming days.

Graham’s has already closed both its Glenfield and Crieff operations – Glenfield for five days and Crieff for up to three months.

From April 10, the firm also announced it would cut its standard milk price by 1p/L meaning it will pay farmers 24.5p/L.

‘In meltdown’

This week, a well-respected dairy industry bulletin collated by Ian Potter Associates (IPA) claimed one processor had even been offered milk free of charge for the cost of transporting it.

The bulletin said Covid-19 was causing a “meltdown” within the industry.

“If the Government introduces restrictions, the dairy trade is buckling for a very rough ride with some expecting spot milk to be plentiful and quickly down to circa 20p as orders are reduced or cancelled on mass.

“Well, it has spectacularly crashed to 15p and falling. There is suddenly oceans of surplus milk desperately trying to find a home.

“Today, some milk has gone into AD plants, three processors have dumped milk and two medium/small processors have informed farmers that they can guarantee to collect all the milk this week but can’t guarantee to collect it all over the weekend and next week and to be prepared to dump it on the farm.”

NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes added: “The dairy industry is just one of the many sectors affected by the impacts of Covid19.

We have seen the almost complete loss of the foodservice market and closure of restaurants and cafes during the lockdown which has left some processors with little or no business. This has led to some farmers feeling like they have no option but to dispose of milk on farm.

“We are working as a matter of urgency with the Government and the supply chain to find solutions to the problem, including measures that will divert milk into retail and developing measures that will support affected farmers through this crisis.

“It is important for everyone that we protect the UK dairy sector so when the foodservice market is allowed to operate normally again, we have the dairy farmers in business and with the capacity to produce milk that forms the basis for dozens of healthy and nutritious dairy products which are loved by the nation.”

Farmers affected should note the Environmental Agency rules regarding the spreading of milk.

More to follow.