David G. a Tenant Dairy farmer (under a D notice), writes about the difficulties he faces, not only from FMD problems but also from large corporations and milk processing groups. May 2001
People take milk so much for granted and I want them to get an idea of what it costs in terms of effort, business skill and stockmanship to produce the quality demanded by our customers today.
Older cows that cant be moved
I was asking the MAFF vet who came to inspect my animals on Saturday, when he thought we would be able to cull some of our older cows - because we are fast running out of food and cannot afford to carry animals that have come to the end of their productive life.
For those of you who do not know, cattle over 30 months of age are still not allowed into the food chain due to BSE restrictions. They are (were) transported to abattoirs, slaughtered in the usual way and the carcases are then sent to a renderer. Now we get to the point. The ONLY reason we cannot sell our old cows is because the renderers are still flat out rendering FMD carcases - and will be until middle or end of July was the estimate.
So there must be a lot of slaughtering expected if it is going to take up all the rendering capacity for another 2 months.
Does anyone know what the UK's rendering capacity is?
Meanwhile the situation on many farms is critical. I have animals calving away from home and MAFF won't let me bring them home to milk.
There are 25 in-calf heifers in the 4 acre field about three miles from the home farm - which didn't look too happy when the floods arrived the other day. We have to take a mixer wagon and a loader tractor down every other day - equipment which is kept amongst the animals at home and then has to travel back and forth due to MAFF restrictions. - More chance of spreading disease as I continually go past two neighbours than one journey home with the heifers? Leaving heifers to calve away from home and then not being able to milk them is now beginning to drag me down - mentally - as is watching fodder disappear rapidly because I cannot get animals off to grass keep. I have continued milking some of these old cows but I think they are spreading mastitis through the herd - so I have had to dry some of them off and feed them straw and not much else. It is hurting me because they know and I know they would prefer to eat the grass the other side of the electric fence - now the straw is running out and I think MAFF burnt most of the reserve supplies so I don't know what I am going to do in a couple of weeks time.
There are so many problems.
I have applied for the Welfare for Disposal Scheme but am told that not having any fodder is NOT a reason (MAFF will give you telephone numbers for fodder) - neither is not having any money to buy fodder (MAFF will shoot your animals and not charge you for removing them!). MAFF have also announced lower payments for animals THEY are being cruel to. I think I am elegible because MAFF have refused me a license to move any animals. Having just read in our paper that farm borrowing has now topped #10bn, I think I had better stop before I depress myself any more. How the hell are farmers going to repay all this debt with the lowest farmgate prices in real terms for over 60 years. I'm beginning to wonder if I would have been better off if I had lost the lot to FMD. A friend said it was truely awful but he feels relieved that he is now "out of it".
Hard Line DVM
Gloucester has a new DVM (Chris Williamson) who is very hard line. I think David Parker (who I have known for years) has blown himself up over the Forest of Dean situation - he backed off in a number of cases and now appears to be on indefinate leave - enforced?
I have been speaking to two very caring vets in Gloucester, Geoff Kershaw and Kate Wood. Every suggestion they have come up with has been refused by either Chris Williamson or the equally resolute No. 2 Francesca someone. One of them won't give an inch and the other one won't give a mm.
I am hoping that restrictions will be eased soon. MAFF are supposed to be starting serological testing in the Tewkesbury area about now and results should be back around June 1. Then (I am told they will lift the Form D's if all is clear). If it isn't we are in dead trouble.
Chris Williamson and this Francesca Whatsit are the ones to crack. I haven't put the NFU or RSPCA onto them. I am so bogged down with milking, feeding, maize drilling and silage making - I just don't want any hassle - I've got no time for it and mentally I am pretty drained.
We have worked damn hard to protect our animals from FMD
by keeping relief workers off the farm and trying to do all the work ourselves with our one employee. But we have been doing this since Feb - 7 days a week and problems are getting us down. We are supposed to clean and disinfect the tractors before leaving one farm to go to the other - but who has got the time? I laughed today as we drew out of the now muddy field with the feeder wagon and the JCB loadall - after taking food to the incalf heifers (which are not allowed to cross a road). Well you should have seen the mud we left on the road!! Boll...cks, I thought - I started at 5.30am and its now nearly 2.00pm - I'm need some lunch and a kip before starting the pm routine. Pity MAFF don't send some labour to help!
I did apply for the Welfare for Disposal scheme but was told that insufficient fodder or money was not a valid reason.
The payments are being reduced or they won't pay you anything (I'm not sure). Anyway who wants to shoot healthy animals if we can struggle through and maybe sell pedigree heifers for #1,000 maybe - or am I dreaming! FMD boys got up to #5000 for animals of my quality!
The Bank is offering me more money but what's the good of that if I can't pay it back?
I am only a County Council tenant (with other land). About 63 acres at "home" plus about 200 acres in two other places. At "home" I have a dairy unit and cattle barn and I rely on moving animals between three farms and making a lot of maize silage to keep at "home".
So if I can borrow more money - is there a problem? UK agriculture currently owes #10bn and I don't think farmers make that much profit ?! So what is going to happen to our farmers? Eventually the banks will own most of the farms that cannot repay their debts but I don't want to lose a retirement home I have managed to save for. I have one child (13) at private school which is being funded from a policy I took out when she was born and another daughter on a scholarship in the USA (she is 22 and thankfully in her last year). We are driving an old 1985 SAAB because the old 1985 Volvo died and we spend as little as we can. We are desperate for a new car which will use less fuel (taxed at 80%+)! so I am paying tax while making no profit.
I just feel that as an established tenant farmer producing nearly 1000 tonnes of milk (nearly 1m litres), 130 pedigree holstein milkers and 160 other young cattle, I should not need to go begging for family tax credit or whatever. That is for people who cannot work, not someone who is fit and works seven days a week. I know a lot of Council farm tenants are on income support. What is the point?
There needs to be an intensive campaign to persuade farmers to stop looking for the extra 1p by selling direct to a dairy or a supermarket.
The only people who should be selling outside a co-op are the producers with a niche market of their own. The rest of us have been lumbered with high costs and dumped at the mercy of the world commodity market.
There are plenty of farmer-owned co-ops for meat and milk but farmers are hell bent on going around them. Remember, a PLC is duty bound to pay the farmer as little as it possibly can whilst a farmer owned co-operative is duty bound to pay the farmer as much as it possibly can.
Milk co-ops: Axis, Zenith, Milklink (sons of Milk Marque), United Milk are the main players.
Meat: not my territory but didn't Richard Haddock start up one in Devon - West Country Meat or Beef? There must be others.
Calves: Warwick Quality Calves.
Co-ops and Markets are the ONLY way to determine a price. The price you get for selling direct is based on the above and if the above gets reduced to the odds and ends - the vast majority of the quality stuff ends up in the laps of supermarkets for less than the cost of production.
Our own well established system of marketing has been eroded by Government who has sold us out to Europe. The videos we have cite the EU model of farmer owned co-ops which have been established in Europe for over 50 years. UK farmers have had the rug pulled out from underneath them and have 50 years of catching up to do!!
The milk price is currently up (for me) the best part of 3.5p per litre - #35,000 more this year if it doesn't go down again! However, don't forget it went down the best part of 10p a litre over the last four years (#100,000 down!). The price is now about 20p a litre but costs (I am told) are 21p to 22p. Robert Wiseman has announced he wants to put the price down - see below which was sent to me by a farmer with his comment in italics underneath:-
22 May 2001
Wiseman plans to cut milk price
By FWi staff
SCOTTISH Dairy giant Robert Wiseman plans to cut the price it pays to farmers, reports The Independent.
- I wonder how long it will be before the others follow suit, which they will have too to stay competitive !
It is this sort of thing that will lead to exactly what "the people" say they don't want - herds of 300 to 1000 cows in cow factories - "to stay competitive".
I'm off to one of the other farms now with a mixer load of straw, maize silage and concentrates for the in calf heifers stranded in a 4 acre field. Andy is unloading 25 tonnes of fertilizer for the maize and a lorry with 25 tonnes of beet nuts is queuing up to be unloaded. So sorry I don't know if I will ever have enough time to find out if I need help or not! I guess when all these bills need paying will be the time!
The owner of a haulage firm in Devon (who delivered some fertilizer today) says his family have agreed not to shop at any of the big supermarkets any more - instead they are supporting a locally owned shop/supermarket where he says prices are up to 40% cheaper.
This is an extract from the Farmers For Action (FFA / David Handley) Website:-
18.05.01 Many of you may be aware that an american group called PETA are targeting schools in this country with leaflets promoting their campaign "Milk Sucks". This group which is based in Virginia claims to have 700k members worldwide, including 50k in Britain. They are intending to hand out cards to school children outside schools depicting cartoon characters such as Spotty Sue, Windy Wendy, Chubby Charlie and Phlegmy Phil, basically to encourage them not to drink milk as it will make them spotty, fat, bloated you name it they say milk causes it.
A spokeswoman, Toni Vernelli, was interviewed on GMTV this morning by John Stapleton & Dr Hillary Jones, who basically told her that she was talking rubbish, she even claims that drinking milk causes osteoporosis!
They are commencing their campaign in Exeter next week (21 May) and we must make a concerted effort to stop this propaganda aimed at our youngesters, who as we all know, can be very impressionable and faddy with their food. These people will be made to feel very unwelcome wherever they turn up and FFA ask anybody who witnesses this organisation in action, to either contact your local co-ordinator or the FFA office on 01291 690224 mobile 077111 94947 when we shall galvanise people into action.
Their web site is www.MilkSucks.org.uk
13.05.01 Some disturbing news has come through earlier in the week that Alan Wiseman of Wiseman Dairies has sent a letter to all his producers suggesting that they may not be able to sustain the 2p a litre increase which they paid to them last month. They intend to continue this payment for April and May but unless other dairies who refuse to pay the full 2p pay up, Alan may be forced into a reduction in his price. I have spoken to Alan about this situation and he has explained to me in full that he is coming under immense pressure from his customers that he is not in line with two other major players in the milk processing industry. Most farmers will know them, they are again Dairy Crest and Express. I would agree totally with Alan's comments that there was no reason in April why every producer could not have received a 2p increase. This would have sent a very strong message out to all British dairy farmers from the processors that they want British milk for their customers. Instead we are being given the impression that they are treating us with contempt as they have done in previous years.
I think the time has come now, as Tony Blair tells us that FMD restrictions are easing, we should seriously be looking at showing Dairy Crest and Express, as we did earlier last year, that they cannot rule British dairy farmers any more in this way. We have left it during the FMD period for obvious reasons (ie not wishing to spread the disease to people such as the NFU milk committee, who have shown that they can do nothing to these companies and get walked all over). I ask the question - where is John Loftus' organisation who were going to raise the big stick against DIF?. It doesnt appear to be working. Maybe some of you may think that FFA are being outspoken on this and they have not had time but British dairy farmers have not got time on their side. There is only one way now that these companies will understand the message we wish to send to them and that is " if you won't allow us to make a profit then neither shall you". It's time dairy farmers in this country woke up to the fact, if you want an industry for your children and grandchildren, then you have got to come out when asked and together we will send a very strong message to these companies, we are not prepared to accept their treatment of our industry any further.
If we wait any longer, British dairying, like the rest of British agriculture under this government, under these large corporations and milk processing groups, will be finished.
We are flat out with seasonal work on top of the usual "stuff". Am I getting old or is there too much going on to remember everything? My bank manager once said a company director with half as much to do as most of his farmers would have a full time secretary, finance director, shop floor manager etc.
Despite specialising in dairying the list of jobs are so diverse that it is difficult to get stuck into anything without being dragged off to do something else. One thing that has made life that more difficult is trying to comply with Dairy Crest's wishes/incentives to produce the same amount of milk day in, day out. Instead of batch calving in the autumn or spring it means there are always cows calving, drying off, in need of bulling etc etc. So I have got to feed a small group of dry cows, small group of baby calves, small group of weaned calves, bulling heifers, served heifers and incalf heifers EVERY DAY of the bloody year! When we batched calved we had a few big groups of animals and we could concentrate on getting it right.
Anyway I am rambling - again. I probably shouldn't write personal details but I tend to occasionally because people take milk so much for granted and I want them to get an idea of what it costs in terms of effort, business skill and stockmanship to produce the quality we do today. It is (should be) so clean that it will keep for a week in the refrigerator. That is despite it now being collected every other day from many farms. It is a far cry from the day my father used to get churns returned the next day because it was "off" before it even got to the dairy. Do you remember the churns on the milk stand in the blazing sun in June?