While large farms may be needed to help maintain our standing in the global market, UK rural economies still need the secure and reliable foundations provided by widespread and successful farm businesses suited to the varying factors in different areas such as land types, ability to grow and harvest crops, weather patterns, location etc.
Dairy farms, with their consistent high business turnovers, have many suppliers and service providers. Our farm alone has well over 50. They in turn have their own suppliers and service providers and so it goes on. Money generated from milk sales circulated into the local and wider economy rather than used to make disproportionate profits or build empires in distant places.
Dairy Farming requires a great amount of personal and financial commitment as well as dedication, skill, hard work and determination. Often working in the most challenging conditions, in all weathers, and with the long hours that are part and parcel of what is not simply a way of making a living, but a unique way of life. Cow comfort has to be the priority for any farmer as happy animals also produce better results.
While milking herds may all have gone out to grass in fondly remembered times, it is overlooked that they also spent the many long winter months tethered by the neck in small dark buildings, whereas contemporary buildings are spacious light and airy, and cows are free to wander and mix among their own social groups.
Large units or differing farming systems are not the real threat to UK dairy farming, animal welfare or the many small family farms.
That comes from a lack of investment precipitated by retailers and other buyers of milk driven by profit alone, who continue to take disproportionate margins, encourage consumers to expect unrealistically cheap food, satisfy politicians’ need to keep inflation low and leave powerless producers to shoulder the losses.
Where will the food that most people take for granted come from if British farmers who produce good quality food to high welfare and environmental standards are unable to compete sustainably with other countries, and what are the alternatives?