Life turns sour for Kilmington milk farmer

Stuart and Caroline Perry with children Thomas and Grace alongside their herd of pedigree Holstein a

Stuart and Caroline Perry with children Thomas and Grace alongside their herd of pedigree Holstein and Jersey Cows. Picture: CHRIS CARSON - Credit: Archant

Family face losing their home and business unless supermarket prices rise

Plummeting milk prices are threatening to cost a Kilmington dairy farmer and his young family their home and business.

Stuart and Caroline Perry say that unless supermarkets start charging a realistic amount, their days in the industry are rapidly coming to an end.

The couple took on the tenancy at Nower Farm, with children Grace, two, and Thomas, nine months, just a year-and-a-half ago, optimistic about the future.

Now, like many others in the industry, they are sinking beneath mounting debts and reckon they could soon lose everything they have worked so hard to achieve.

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“We are young, forward-thinking, passionate dairy farmers, but we cannot survive if this continues for much longer,” said Mr Perry, 30.

“We started with a decent milk price and a positive outlook for the future of our business and family. But, in 2015, a series of cuts has affected our business hugely. Our milk price has fallen by a third.”

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Since taking over the 193-acre farm, the couple have invested heavily to increase their herd of pedigree Holstein and Jersey milking cows to 165, along with the extra infrastructure needed.

They currently produce 1.2million litres of milk a year.

“When we started we believed we had quite a promising future with a really good milk price of 32p per litre,” said Mr Perry.

“But after seven or eight months, the milk price has plummeted. It is really serious.

“Our cost of production for every litre of milk is 26p – that’s for everything, including rent, feed, power and equipment etc. But the price we are now getting for our milk is just 20.5p per litre. It is just not sustainable.

“This is a widespread problem throughout the industry - there are a lot of other farmers in a similar predicament.

“We are trying to raise public awareness about what we are experiencing.

“Supermarkets are using milk as a loss leader, but it is us who are taking the loss. If people want milk from producers with certified welfare standards like British farmers, rather than cheap imports without those guarantees, they must pay a proper price.

“We are aiming to hang on, but we have to hope our nice bank manager is even nicer to us. If the price does not go up next year we are looking at coming out with a huge loss.

Mrs Perry, 32, a qualified vet, said: “We are the ‘idiot’ industry that gives our product away and one month later the milk processor tells us what they are going to pay us for it.

“We don’t own our farm, so we will lose it if this continues and we will never be able to set up again. We will go bust. It is up to the public to support us and show they are willing to pay the proper price. All we are asking for is a living wage and a small profit for our family to live on and enough to reinvest in the future so the industry can be sustained.”

The NFU this week launched an action plan to address the low prices hitting the British dairy and meat industry. It calls on the Government to ‘admit that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the supply chain and take remedial action’.

It calls on retailers to ‘stop devaluing fresh British food like milk purely to get customers through the door’.

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