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Dairy farmers see red at environment minister’s ‘green concrete’ gaffe


Environment minister, Elliot Morley revealed a complete lack of understanding and sensitivity to the dairy industry in a comment on Friday. During the announcement of the RSPB’s latest wild bird population figures, the minister accused dairy farming of having the ‘biodiversity capacity of green concrete’.


When asked to expand on this, the minister said, in fact, he was referring to ‘intensive dairy farming’.


There are approximately 25,000 dairy farms in the UK, many of them small family farms. However, intensification of the industry is driving 40 farmers out of dairying every week according to FARM, the independent voice of farmers.(1) The crisis has prompted FARM to launch a campaign – Just Milk – to save Britain’s dairy farmers.


Smaller farms are known to provide better wildlife habitats than larger, more intensive farms. According to the RSPB “the issue of dairy is becoming much more urgent because of intensification”. However, it is keen not to single dairy farming out. There is little difference between arable and livestock farming in terms of supporting wildlife – only when farms intensify does wildlife suffer.


Elliot Morley agreed with the RSPB position that wildlife suffered with intensification.


Peter Lundgren of FARM said, “This is a shallow and fatuous thing for the environment minister to say and shows a real lack of sensitivity for the drivers that are pushing dairy farmers to intensify. We are losing small family farms – and the wildlife they support – because of horrendous financial hardship. This is largely because of this government’s surrender to the supermarkets.”


Jim Paice MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture and Rural Affairs adds "This is extremely offensive to the countless dairy farmers in this country who are struggling to break even. To suggest that dairy farmers are less interested in the natural environment is to show this Government in its true light - in complete ignorance of farming matters and without any empathy for the difficulties farmers face. We all want to see farms and birds thrive but this won't be achieved by insulting farmers."


The intensification of the dairy industry is driven by low milk prices and, more than anyone, it is the major supermarkets that have helped force the price so low that often it doesn’t even cover the farmer’s production costs.(2)


As the milk crisis deepens, to stay afloat, Britain’s dairy farmers are being forced to intensify by increasing herd sizes with the result that rural employment suffers – small farms provide up to five times more jobs per acre than big farms – the environment suffers, and high animal welfare standards are put at risk.


All of which makes Mr Morley’s comments appear incredibly mis-informed. As John Burns an organic farmer in Devon said, “It gets to me this swiping at dairy, when the industry is on its knees. Morley also has a short memory. I was with him when he walked around a model family-run dairy farm in Devon, a real wildlife paradise. They’re still in business, goodness knows how.”


FARM is demanding that the government recognises that a sustainable dairy industry depends on a high number and diversity of farmers and that dairy farmers receive a fair share of the retail price. FARM’s recently launched Just Milk campaign calls on consumers to support small dairy farmers by asking Tesco, as market leader, to ensure its dairy farmers get a fair share of retail price.