Campaigning on Behalf
of Britain's Family Farms
Osborne Newton, Aveton Gifford, Kingsbridge, Tel: 01548 852794,
Working 14 hours a day to lose money, by Alice Knox
It is hard to express how depressing it is to get out of bed at 5.30am to work a 14 hour day to lose more money. It's difficult to carry on.
We are dairy farmers on the north side of Dartmoor National Park with a small herd of 100 milking cows. We are struggling to survive. For every litre of milk we sell we now lose seven pence.
I've never been one to air my personal circumstances in public but British dairy farming is at crisis point. We've just sold 38 heifers to pay our creditors, which has broken my heart; they are are all home bred so I know them all as individuals.
This time last year we were paid almost 30p a litre and we could just about break even; now we get just 23p. We've learnt to dread the text messages from the buyer telling us that we're going to get even less for our milk. We have had to lose our two workmen, John and Jack, as we were unable to pay their wages. Soon we won't be able to pay our 20 farm suppliers either.
We live in a beautiful place with views across Dartmoor, we love our cows and what we do, but we can't carry on like this. My husband Simon and I work long hours and rarely leave the farm; working seven days a week almost every day of the year. We cannot continue working for less than nothing, we feel like second class citizens. Our health is compromised, we are constantly stressed and exhausted, we don't know what we can do! Simon needs an operation on his shoulder but it would take six weeks for him to recover. Six weeks off work is not an option, so he's just having injections to numb the pain.
We can't afford for anything to go wrong. We're lucky that the rain held off long enough to get some good silage this year.
Last year was disastrous; we lost 25 cows to TB - a quarter of our herd. I cried for days, and watched as my favourite cow was loaded onto the truck to be killed. She used to come up to me for a cuddle and loved having her neck tickled.
Defra rules meant that when we lost these 25 cows we were not allowed to restock or replace them until the farm had passed its next TB test several months later, so we lost the milk that they should have produced too.
The appalling milk prices meant that the bank would not lend us any money to restock.
It seems incredibly unfair that processors and supermarkets are turning a profit at the expense of farmers like us. I would like to take a tanker of milk and pump it through the entrances of Aldi, Lidl, Asda and Morrisons who sometimes pay as little as 6p and 16p a litre for milk on the spot price. Of course I won't actually do it, but I wonder if I did whether it might get some attention; perhaps not.
My husband Simon is an optimist - he has to be. He hopes that things will get better, but even he is reluctantly talking about selling our herd in the spring if milk prices don't improve. It will break his heart if we do. He's 57 and has been working this farm for 35 years so he's not qualified for anything else. We'll lose our livelihood. Ironically we could both end up stacking shelves in the supermarkets that have helped put us in this mess.
We are in a spiral of despair. There seems no good end in sight. Personally I don't know how much more I can take.