DAIRY farmers across Oxfordshire have described the industry’s problems as the “perfect storm” and threatened to quit.

It comes after one of the biggest dairy cooperatives, First Milk, announced it would defer payment to its 1,200 member farmers for two weeks because of falling milk prices.

Industry body DairyCo said the average UK farmgate price was 28.91 pence per litre (ppl) in November, down 16 per cent from the previous year.

But spokeswoman Amanda Ball said current prices were as low as 22.49ppl and would drop to about 20ppl in February.

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Harry Manners, 30, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, has been working alongside his father Richard, 55, for the past six years with the aim of taking over the running of Field Farm, near Longcot. But the married father of two young daughters is now having second thoughts.

He said: “I want to continue what my grandfather started [at Field Farm], but I just can’t see a future. It’s all very sad.”

He said the family’s alternative was to sell their 180 cows and reinvest the proceeds in property development.

Farmers are often being paid almost the same for their milk than what it costs to produce.

Mr Manners said he currently received 25.5ppl including bonuses, but production costs were 24ppl before the rent for land and family labour was taken into account.

He said: “We’re not paying ourselves anything.”

His father Richard said: “There’s no sign of it picking up.”

John Hook, 67, a fourth-generation dairy farmer who runs Cote Lodge Farm, near Bampton, with his son, Tim, said: “It’s getting to the stage where we are asking: Why are we producing milk if they’re not paying decent prices for it?”

“You can’t produce milk at 20p. We can do other things. We can switch the milk off if we want to.”

Mr Hook, who has about 200 cows, said: “They have to make up their minds whether they want milk produced in this country or not. People won’t have it much longer.”

David Christensen, 46, a second-generation dairy farmer at Kingston Hill Farm, near Kingston Bagpuize, described the industry’s problems as the “perfect storm”.

Mr Christensen, who has 620 cows, said: “Supply and demand is out of kilter on a global basis.

“For a lot producers, we’re at the red zone. Some people will think: Is this worth the aggravation at these prices?”

According to figures from the National Farmers’ Union, the number of dairy farmers in Oxfordshire fell to 43 in January 2015, down from 46 a year ago.

NFU spokesman Lee Perry said: “Our industry has been battered by a number of crippling price cuts in recent months and we are doing all we can to support our members – speaking to processors and retailers, with an end goal of a sustainable long-term dairy industry.

“In the meantime, consumers should continue to buy British milk – and other British dairy products.

“If you can’t find it on your supermarket shelf, ask them why and let us know.”


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