It’s tough on producers of basic products, such as farmers producing milk, lamb, beef, grain, potatoes, vegetables, pork and chicken, but the most basic rule of economics applies directly to their livelihoods: when supplies increase, prices come down.
That might not happen immediately and long-term contracts might save some from the worst early effects, but it will happen. Indeed, it has happened to almost every farm commodity during this year with dairy farmers hit hardest at present. China cut back on imports of milk products, Russia has banned European Union products, and British supermarkets are selling liquid milk dirt cheap. Good news for shoppers, bad, bad, news for dairy farmers who had in general been increasing production because of better prices last year.
It’s human nature to look for someone else to blame when you’re in trouble. So it was brave of Gary Mitchell of NFU Scotland to point out recently at a seminar for dairy farmers that trying to blame other sections of the milk industry, such as processors, manufacturers and supermarkets, for lowering prices was helping no one. “Nothing is happening that hasn’t happened before,” he said, “we are in a cycle.”
Predictably he was not the most popular dairy farmer in the room, or possibly in Scotland. But below the frustration and fear about low prices it is probable that many dairy farmers agree with him. Those committed and able enough with a sound business structure will survive. And it’s interesting that, so far, Scotland’s dairy farmers have not joined demonstrations outside processors and supermarket depots like those organised in England by Farmers for Action.
I’ve noted before that it is possible to sympathise with farmers hit by low prices while disagreeing with how some protest. Farmers for Action have been protesting on and off for about 15 years without effect and this time won’t be any different.
Only a drop in production or Russia and China, among others, re-entering the world dairy product market will help. Or, as more than one commentator has pointed out, if the British public insisted on paying much more than 90p or so for four pints of milk from their supermarket. And the chances of the average shopper insisting on paying more than they have to for any kind of farm product? Correct.
Mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn are all very well, but you can have too much of a good thing. November was a good example of that – wet, misty, mild and mainly miserable. Water lying, mud deepening, little pleasure in working out of doors all. Coincidence, of course, but the arrival of December and winter has brought colder, drier weather. I’d like it to last.