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Good Evans: In our unique milk market we should get a premium

This month Roger Evans takes us through his thinking about the milk price, and gives his reasons why we should be getting a better deal.

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This is me thinking with my pen. At this stage I’m not sure if I’ve thought this through properly. I’m not having a go at anybody but just trying to understand what is happening to our industry, and we are all probably trying to do that.


It would be reasonable to assume the market for UK milk is unique because of the large proportion which is drunk as fresh product. That uniqueness should make the UK a very good place to produce milk. Most, or the majority anyway, of investment by processors has been in large liquid super dairies, so presumably they would agree with me thus far.


But that liquid market does not create the buoyant place to produce milk that we think it should. Some would say that is because the big processors have given their margin away to the major retailers. I would interpret that in a more kindly fashion by saying the more powerful retailers have taken the opportunity to play one processor off against another as they competed to fill new factories, and have taken most of that margin – that is most of the premium you would expect – away from them.


The price of milk in major retailers would suggest what I say is true. So if I am on the right track, I can see another issue. I used to meet people who were at the very top of milk processing on a regular basis. They would often, all of them, say they would be quite happy to pay a much higher price for milk just as long as all their competitors were paying a very similar price.


So if you agree with me thus far and accept our UK milk market should be a premium market, what is holding it back? Well, while the major retailers are big culprits in this, there is another factor – the Arla factor. The Arla ex-farm milk price is linked to milk prices on the continent. And my argument is, because of the reasons I have stated, our milk price should be better.


But Arla competitors in the UK have got to link their price to the Arla price or they become uncompetitive. Do you see what I’m getting at? I have nothing but admiration and respect for what Arla does and is doing for dairy farmers in Europe and this country. But it needs to be recognised there is a premium market in the UK and we should direct our efforts to getting that premium back off the retailers. Their customers wouldn’t even notice.


Moving on, I’ve also been thinking about age recently. Not in a negative way. I was driving the tractor down a lane and a neighbour was standing by his Land Rover in a gateway. So I pull up to say Helloand he opens the door and climbs up on the step for a chat. How you getting on boy? he asks. He’s 70 and I’m older than him, but he’s always called me boy. He has to climb up on the step to talk to me because I haven’t stopped the engine. I haven’t stopped the engine because when I start it there’s all sorts of warning lights come on that are supposed to be off before you move off. And I’m not confident about achieving that twice in one morning.


So I’m called ‘boy’. That’s okay, I like to think I’m young at heart. Recently, my consultant told me I had a young mind. I turned that comment over in my mind after he said it. He could have meant I was childish, I probably am a bit. But within the context of what we were talking about I don’t think so. I dug about in the comment and eventually decided it was a compliment.


The real reason I’ve been thinking about age recently is because my eldest grandson has become 21. When he was christened, his dad held him up in front of the congregation at our church and I was so proud of them both. Two years later, the same little boy, in the same church, was to introduce a chase scene into the nativity.


Now this 21-year-old and his 18-year-old brother have decided they don’t want to be dairy farmers. They are clearly more intelligent than me and their father. But they do help out on the farm. The oldest quite a lot, and is very useful, and the other says do I have to? I’m sure they are more motivated by the drinking vouchers we give them than by any love of cows. We bought a new 30-year-old scraper tractor at Christmas and told the 21-year-old it was his birthday present.


Anyway, the two boys did most of the milking on Saturday evening. The eldest is in charge and when they are finishing up he tells his brother to go out of the parlour and open the gates. Number two takes life very literally, and he really needed more detail. So the instruction should have been open up the collecting yard gates and the gates to the feed area, so when Dad milks in the morning he can push the cows out of the cubicles, down to the collecting yard.


But open the gates means open the gates. So, when Dad goes to milk at 4.30am next morning, he’s got about 20 cows in the cubicles and the rest scattered somewhere over the farm.


Getting older is okay if you have good health and don’t try to run anywhere!

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