RABDF requests help for non-bovine milk producers in UK

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) has requested immediate financial support from government for non-bovine milk producers who have seen their businesses devastated because of Covid-19.

In a letter sent 12 May to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice, the RABDF highlights the fragile state of the non-bovine milk sector which it fears could face collapse without additional support. The sector, which includes milk, dairy products and meat from the goats, sheep and the buffalo dairy sectors, has seen much of its market disappear since Covid-19 restrictions were put in place.
This is because many of the producers are supplying the ‘out of home’ catering market, such as delis, farmers markets and restaurants, which have temporarily ceased trading.

There is no spot milk price for these milks and with most non-bovine milk processed into fresh, short shelf life products there is no flexibility to withstand market shocks.

As a result, milk is being discarded by many producers and will continue for the foreseeable future. Animals are also being removed from the herd to reduce the amount of milk being produced.

RABDF vice chairman, Di Wastenage, said, “The non-bovine milk sector is hugely different to the bovine milk sector. Due to their small size these sectors are naturally sensitive and are not able to withstand significant shocks such as Covid-19.

“There is no spot milk price for these milks in this country, so it is extremely important to manage milk volumes to retain stability in the marketplace, otherwise there is only one option and that is discarding milk”.

These food products are predominantly sold as short shelf life fresh products which adds to the issue further. In addition to the loss in market from the catering sector there has also been an immediate change in consumer purchasing habits away from premium products to staples and this is significantly impacting sales too.

Wastenage added, “We don’t imagine the marketplace will return after lockdown is lifted and the likely scenario is consumers will continue to follow their new retail buying habits and lower their spend on high value items such as non-bovine milk and milk products. This will reduce the pace at which the market will rebound.”

Already the deadweight values for goat carcasses has fallen from £150-£180 (€167-200) to £60 (€67) for those supplying the premium restaurant trade, which is below the cost of production.

Data from 15% of the goat milk market shows 8,000 litres of milk a week (14% of total supply) is being discarded, with production being reduced by 20,000 litres each month by drying off early and removing animals from the milking herd.

Wastenage said, “This sector is trying to adapt to the situation however, with such a specialist marketplace it takes time to change and we hope the government will offer immediate financial ‘loss of market’ support from now through to September 2020 to provide the breathing space for the sector to adjust.

“It is disappointing the sector was not included in the hardship fund for dairy farmers, which was announced last week (6 May). However, due to the small size of the sector we hope the government can find a small sum of money to support them as without it, these farms will quite simply not survive,” she warned.

Dairy farmers receiving a reduced milk price or having to discard milk because of Covid-19 are being urged to fill out a short two-minute survey at rabdf.co.uk/survey.

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