Dairy farmers will be praying the sector has not reached the top of the milk market and is set to plunge down again.
Muller’s announcement on Wednesday it was keeping its milk price unchanged for March will be scrutinised by many producers, and not just those who supply it.
Blaming increased volumes, it is to be hoped that with its milk price stalling under 27ppl and many farmers still trying to pay off debt after the hardship of past 18 months, this is not a precursor to price drops and further producer pain.
As sure as the ebb and flow of the milk market, however, is the cyclical debate about dairy farmers’ attitudes to collaboration and greater communication within the supply chain. The photo of the front page of the July 10, 2015, edition of Farmers Guardian shows calls for unity are not a new thing in dairying.
Analysts Ian Potter and Chris Walkland rightly point out on p14 of this week’s FG that the economics of boom and bust prompted by rising prices and surging production, should be left in the mad house.
The issue the industry has to grapple with is whether farmers really want to come together or if the processors would even encourage them to. By coming together as farmers, there must surely be power in the communal mass and the ability to make decisions which benefit the long-term health of the industry, not just the short-term financial gains of individuals.
Farming has always fostered a mentality in some quarters which pits farmer against farmer, but such an aggressive and oppositional attitude will only hurt the long-term future of the industry.
Dairying can stick to its cycle of boom and bust if it likes, with every trough in prices whittling out yet more farmers, but there will come a point when this finally undermines the critical mass and viability of the whole sector.
Mark Grimshaw began his tenure at the Rural Payments Agency saying paper-free subsidy applications would be the norm within a few years. Now he departs, it appears farmers did not agree with his plan.