Cheshire dairy farmers may need to diversify to survive.

PUBLISHED: 21:19 14 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:52 20 February 2013

Cheshire Agricultural Society chairman Tony Garnett on his farm at Allostock, near Knutsford

Cheshire Agricultural Society chairman Tony Garnett on his farm at Allostock, near Knutsford

Cheshire Agricultural Society's chairman says local dairy farmers may need to diversify to survive. Tony Garnett of Allostock reveals the pressures facing the farming community Words by CARL NAGAITIS

Cheshire Agricultural Society chairman Tony Garnett put aside his growing concerns about the plight of the countys dairy farmers - currently facing serious economic challenges as a result of plummeting milk prices - to concentrate on overseeing another hugely successful Cheshire Show.

But now that the countys most prestigious agricultural event of the year is behind us, the 68-year-old farmer, whose family links with the dairy industry go back generations, spoke frankly about the stark reality of running a dairy farm during one of the toughest economic periods for many years.

Dairy farming, which is key to this county is struggling at the moment, said Tony, speaking from his home at Claybank Farm at Allostock near Knutsford. There is a great deal of anger among dairy farmers about what the big supermarket chains are prepared to pay for their
milk supplies.

Many farmers are saying that they are simply unable to recover the costs of producing milk from the prices that they are being offered, which means they simply cant go on. Im not surprised that we are now hearing forecasts that the current tough economic challenges will lead to ten per cent of dairy farmers pulling out of farming altogether.

There is no doubt in my mind that the current situation will serve to accelerate the exodus from the dairy farming industry. No matter how much they love the job they do, dairy farmers, like anybody else, have to make ends meet. And in the long term that will mean we wont see the extensive range of dairy products on the supermarket shelves that we enjoy today.

Tony said a number of farmers, like himself, were extremely fortunate enough to supply milk to Sainsburys who have been paying them at cost price plus. This makes all the difference to us economically, he added.
However, despite the financial pressures on the dairy sector, some other areas of farming were prospering according to Tony.

Market conditions have created growing demand for cereals and that demand has led to increased prices. As a result cereal farmers seem to be doing well at the moment. Demand for cereals is increasing and the prices react accordingly.

Increased demand for cereals from the booming Chinese economy and elsewhere in the Far East has served to boost prices significantly. Similarly, the severe drought across wide areas of the United States has sent their crop prices soaring. That is great news for cereal farmers but simply adds to the pressure on our dairy farmers.

Why? Because dairy farmers need to feed their cattle to ensure production of milk supplies. And higher crop prices mean an increase in their running costs. In addition, the extremely wet weather we have had in the UK has only served to make matters worse. Dairy farmers have had to delay harvesting their home-grown cattle feed and when they have managed to get their crops in, they may find it is less nutritious.

We are under pressure from all sides. We have to look to the future and hope that milk prices recover because our dairy farming community produce some of the finest milk in the country, he said.

Looking to the not too distant future, Tony believes the growth of the bio-fuels sector could well provide new opportunities for some farmers in Cheshire.

Certain crops can and are being used as fuels for power stations and others can be used in the production of bio fuels which are alternatives to petrol and diesel. There is no reason why Cheshire farmers cant get into new areas such as these which will become increasingly important as oil and gas supplies run out.

After all, farmers of the past raised the horses that provided the transport for the country and they grew the feed which kept the horses going for generations, pointed out Tony who is married with four grown children. So moving into the energy sector is not as unusual as it may first seem.

Now after having completed the organisation of his fifth Cheshire County Show at which Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex was the most high profile visitor, how did Tony feel it went? We just got on with the job in hand which was all about ensuring another successful county show. It was another successful event and was very well attended.

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