Fewer dairy herds than ever before, but they are larger

Dairy farm numbers have fallen to their lowest level since records began more than a century ago. Picture: John Devlin
Dairy farm numbers have fallen to their lowest level since records began more than a century ago. Picture: John Devlin
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After a year where there was a constant chorus of complaints over the price being paid to primary producers of milk, the number of dairy farms in Scotland has decreased by a net 17 to 957 – the lowest number since records began in 1903.

Janette Mathie, secretary of the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association, which collated the results, said: “Overall 2016 has been a horrible experience for many dairy farmers with farm gate prices below the cost of production for much of the year.”

Cow numbers also decreased by 2,529 to 173,306 but, as proof the industry was moving into fewer larger herds, still remained the second highest number since 1997. The average size of herd in the year increased to 181 milking cows.

READ MORE: Milk producers hit by £200m time lag for rising prices

While the industry now seems to be moving out of the price trough, Mathie said her organisation wanted to see industry funded bodies spending a far larger share of their funding promoting dairy produce. This, she claimed, would benefit both the producer and milk processor.

Cautiously looking to the future she said: “Early signs are that at least four completely new dairy farms will start production in 2017 and others may increase cows so I hope it does not lead to over production which will adversely affect the present optimism in the industry.’

NFU Scotland’s milk policy manager George Jamieson feared the figures might have been worse, saying the biggest surprise was that more farmers didn’t leave the sector given “the huge damage caused by two years of milk prices at their lowest ebb for a generation”.

He added: “It is testament to the resilience of Scottish dairy farmers and the cost cutting lengths that they have had to go to simply to survive.”

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