Who does not like a bargain? We all like to pay as little as we can for goods and services, but the current crisis facing British dairy farmers shows that if it seems too good to be true it probably is. When we pay so little for milk do we stop to think: how can it be this cheap?
As a teenager I lived in North Yorkshire and helped out on a neighbours farm. I loved being on the farm, being with the animals, being outdoors and driving a tractor. The farmers son would milk the cows and I would walk them back up the lane to the field they were in. It was a small family farm, which has now been passed onto the sons to run. We are told that it is market forces driving down the cost of milk with over supply around the world. Efficiency is needed by British farmers to compete in this market. However, is this what we want for our milk production and our countryside? At what cost our cheap milk? It is small farms like my friends which are probably less efficient than large agri-businesses, where there is not a farmer, but a farm manager, with contractors who come and do the work. Do we want small family run farms to go out of business?
Also, milk production is only one part of what farmers do. They play a crucial role in shaping and managing our countryside as part of our food production. My farming friends would (at least most of the time) maintain and repair the dry stone walls, cut hay from meadows once birds had finished nesting. They are only payed for the milk and other goods they sell, but a lot goes into making that happened which is of benefit to our countryside. So, at what cost cheap milk?
It has been suggested that we need fair trade milk, just as we have tea, coffee and sugar. This seems a good idea, but also seems a sad reflection on the state of our food production system, it should be common sense that people who work hard to produce food that we need get paid a fair price for what they produce.
There is a cost to cheap milk, it may not impact us directly straight away, but it will impact our countryside and those who produce our food. So next time we are buying milk, or other goods may we think about who produced it and how much it costs.