In January 2010 there were 2,034 dairy producers in Wales but over the past year Welsh dairy numbers have fallen by 3.2 per cent.Milk production is falling, threatening the long-term security of fresh milk supply from this country. So what is the future of the dairy industry? Planning has been put forward for an 8000 dairy in dairy in Lincolnshire which would be Britain's biggest dairy. The word 'intensive' springs to mind which is always thought to be a bad thing in farming. But do dairy farmers have a choice? Farmers cannot predict consumer demands and trends but have to make a living. Producing more milk would ensure more income which in any other industry would be seen as a good thing, but in farming it's not that straight forward. Consumers can be troubled by animal welfare, organic farming and may be caught up in the idealistic view of farming but these views aren't necessarily reflected in consumer habits. Shoppers may continue to buy the cheapest product on the shelf which may not come from the type of farm that they would like but on the shelf, only the price is compared.
Every week five Dairy Farmers in Wales go out of business. Falling milk prices, Bovine TB and the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain, meant that last year, nine hundred dairy farmers in Britain, left milk production. But some Welsh farms are surviving, by changing the way they sell their milk.
Elfyn Davies is runs SanCler Organic cheese and sells around 400 pots of organic smooth cheese a week. They come in different flavours,natural, basil and garlic, chives and dill and mint. Elfyn is currently working on a new cheese that's mixed with a fragrant marmalade, perfect on your toast in the morning. Elfyn can make 2 pots of cheese from 1 litre of milk, which is more cost effective. Any surplus milk goes to an organic milk co-op. So to compare what Elfyn would get for his milk if it sold it as straight liquid raw milk to what he makes now, he would get about 26 pence per litre from just selling milk but he makes £1.20 a litre by turning his milk into cheese. Elfyn told me that he would never go back to selling just milk. As a cheese producer he can dictate the price that he sells for and is more in control of his business. Something that he wouldn't have if he just stuck to milk production.
In Wales income from the farm business has fallen by 10.9 per cent over the last year. Farmers have to start thinking outside the box and adapting their business. One dairy farm near Bridgend has started bottling their own milk to cope with the ever changing dairy industry. By having control of all aspects of their business they are able to make a profit and invest in the future. Ty Tanglwyst farm is run by John Lougher and son Rhys Lougher and they have a small herd of Holstein cows. They managed to get a grant from the Welsh Assembly to develop their dairy farm which has enabled them to grow their business. Other farms aren't so lucky.
So what is the future? That is the million dollar question that I cannot answer and I doubt anyone can. Answers on a postcard please!