DAIRY farming in Cheshire is “on a knife edge” as rising costs and threats to income continue to force dozens of farms to close.
Just as high streets in towns and villages are being hit by shop closures, Cheshire has lost 42 dairy farms in the past 12 months.
Chairman of the National Farmers Union’s regional board and retired dairy farmer Denis Parton, of Boot House Farm, Rushton, Tarporley said: “Things are fairly dire. Production is at its lowest for 30 years and if the price drops the milk won’t be produced.
“The farmers in this part of the world are contracted to directly supply Tesco and the price they pay for the milk is based on the costs of production. They determine what the variable costs are and it is priced so the producers can continue to produce milk, but it is on a knife edge.
“If Tesco were to change their prices it will blow the whole thing open.
“On top of that, new EU legislation regarding slurry stores is going to require dairy farmers spending huge amounts of money, tens of thousands of pounds, on new facilities.
“Some farmers will carry on as beef or sheep farmers and diversify.
“The worrying bit is the skills you have built up as a dairy farmer will be lost all together.
“Our industry is one that is passed on from generation to generation. Farmers will be worried for their livelihoods, their futures and their families.”
In the last decade, dairy farming in Cheshire has been in steep decline.
Figures from dairy market analysts Datum show in September 2002 there were more than 1,000 dairy farms in Cheshire but in just six years there are now only 666, meaning a third of the county’s dairy farmers have gone.
Tony Rimmer, director of Rostons chartered surveyors and agricultural valuers of Whitchurch, said: “There are not the opportunities available in the wider economy to enable farmers to gracefully retire anymore.
“If we do see a trend of milk prices heading downwards, which many commentators are talking about, it will lead to a further exodus of dairy farmers and more change in the countryside.
“Many farmers are now looking over their shoulder waiting to see what will be thrown at them in 2009. At a recent meeting of Cheshire dairy farmers, the overall consensus was that cuts in milk price and landlords seeking higher rent will all lead to a difficult 12 months.”