Dairy farms flushing thousands of gallons of milk down the drain

Wednesday 29th April 2020 10:00 am
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An inquisitive heifer at Pierrepont Farm in Frensham (photo: Emma Hobbs) ()

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LOCAL dairy farmers are pouring away thousands of gallons of milk after the coronavirus shutdown of coffee outlets such as Costa.

It is being tipped into slurry pits on farms, or sprayed on fields as fertiliser, says dairy farmer Jamie Butler of Whitewool Farm between East and West Meon.

Jamie is the National Farmers Union South East dairy board chairman and grazes about 430 friesian holstein dairy cows on the family farm.

He said: “Some farmers have contracts with milk processors who solely supply the hospitality industry, and in particular coffee shops like Costa.

“Supermarkets get their milk through processors who have contracts with specific dairy farms who produce enough to fill the demand, and so now the coffee shops are closed, there is no capacity out there for milk.

“So the milk for coffee is being tipped into slurry pits, or sprayed on fields.”

As well as happening nationally, farmers here in East Hampshire are watching their milk soak into the ground – and to make matters worse it’s costing them money.

Jamie added: “Farms can’t furlough their staff as other businesses can.

“This is because cows need milking twice-a-day, watering, feeding and all the other daily tasks that go with keeping livestock.”

So not only are the coffee milk dairy farms unable to sell their milk, their overheads stay the same as before the lockdown.

In a letter to the government on Monday, April 20, the National Farmers Union, milk processors and related businesses said: “The situation is continuing to escalate rapidly with serious financial consequences for many individual businesses.

“There are farmers unable to pay their feed companies and having to sell cows.

“We need action now, as well as a more considered response for the medium and longer-term measures.

“We cannot over-emphasise the urgency of the current situation.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, as government is already demonstrating elsewhere.

“We believe now is the time to do all we can to ensure the long-term sustainability of the UK dairy sector.”

Stopping cows producing milk, effectively ‘furloughing’ them, is a complicated and costly process, and the farmers union is asking for the government to fund such a scheme.

And among other proposals, it also wants the government to offer farmers grants to help them through the lockdown period.

However, the government is asking for more information before putting forward any rescue package.

But there could be good news on the horizon for farmers – and caffeine junkies across the area.

A Costa spokesman said: “We are looking at how we can safely reopen our stores.”

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