The dairy industry will continue to decline rapidly over the next two years unless urgent action is taken to access markets both at home and overseas.
John Alvis, director of organic cheesemakers Lye Cross Farm, who was presented with the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers’ Princess Royal Award for his outstanding services to the UK dairy industry, said he had never seen ‘such a dire outlook for the sector’.
Mr Alvis, who was speaking to journalists after being presented with the award by Princess Anne at Buckingham Palace yesterday (March 3), said targeting supermarkets alone would not solve the industry’s woes.
“We have to either kowtow down to supermarket pressure or find another market abroad,” said Mr Alvis.
“I think supermarkets have become more aware of their image. Aligned contracts are the only contracts worth having at the moment and are the envy of everyone who is on a market contract.
“I think we have been slow to understand that we are no longer in a national market and that the world is one big international market.”
Mr Alvis said promoting the story behind British dairying would help sway consumers in the home market to buy British.
"It would be nice to think we can generate a bit of loyalty from them,” he added.
“The concept of getting the public to buy British produce rather than imported product is the only card we can play, considering we have the market on our doorstep.”
Mr Alvis said his own business, which exports to 40 countries, was not without its own issues. He said the Somerset business had been streamlined to drive margins tight. On top of that, bovine TB was so rife in one of the farm’s own three herds that it was unlikely ‘it will be milking much longer’.
He said Lye Cross suppliers were paid 22pp/l which he admitted was a ‘rubbish price’.
“The [dairy industry crisis] is related to how long it goes on for and how deep it goes,” added Mr Alvis.
“We can take 22pp/l for a spell but when it goes on and on and on, the banks get to the point where they stop supporting and that is when the wheels fall off.”
Mr Alvis predicted that in two years the industry would be 70 to 80 per cent of what it was today, with only those businesses ‘with fat on their backs’ able to survive.
John Alvis is a director of Lye Cross Farm which combines his family’s farming and specialist organic and farmhouse cheese making business based at Redhill, Somerset. An integrated cycle featuring grass, cows, milk, cheese, whey, pigs and manure has underpinned the business’s development which he overseen for over 50 years.
The farm annually produces 4,000 tonnes of West Country Farmhouse Cheddar retailed to high street multiples and exported to 35 countries. Milk is sourced from its own three herds as well as from 30 local herds. Organic makes up one third of annual production.
Mr Alvis was the driving force behind the FarmLink education programme established in 2000 to bridge urban and rural communities through curriculum based farm visits for school children.
He was instrumental in establishing FarmLink as a Company Limited by guarantee with charitable status, which has since evolved, in partnership with a number of other organisations, to annually cater for over 30,000 school children.
He is a past president of RABDF and IAGrM, former chairman of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust and a Nuffield Farming Scholar, whilst he continues to be an active member of a number of industry organisations including current non-executive director of the Royal Bath and West of England Society, Grosvenor Farms and Cogent Breeding and a Governor of Bridgwater College.
The farmer's industry achievements have already been recognised; he is a recipient of the RASE Excellence in Practice Award and in 2005 he received an MBE for Services to Agriculture in the South West.