Coronavirus: Financial support 'vital' for non-bovine milk sector

The goat, sheep and buffalo sectors are not able to withstand significant shocks such as Covid-19, an industry body has warned
The goat, sheep and buffalo sectors are not able to withstand significant shocks such as Covid-19, an industry body has warned

The dairy sector has urged the government to provide more financial support to non-bovine milk producers who have seen their businesses devastated because of Covid-19.

There are fears over the fragile state of the non-bovine milk sector which could face 'collapse' without additional support.

The sector which includes milk, dairy products and meat from goats, sheep and buffalo has seen much of its market disappear since coronavirus restrictions were put in place.

In a letter sent on Tuesday (12 May) to the Defra Secretary George Eustice, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) highlighted the concerns.

Many producers are supplying the ‘out of home’ catering market, such as deli’s, farmers markets and restaurants, which have temporarily ceased trading.

There is no spot milk price for these milks and with most non-bovine milk processed into fresh short shelf life products there is no flexibility to withstand market shocks.

As a result, milk is being discarded by many producers and will continue for the foreseeable future, RABDF explained.

The group added that animals are also being removed from the herd to reduce the amount of milk being produced.

RABDF vice chairman Di Wastenage said the non-bovine milk sector is 'hugely different' to the bovine milk sector.

"Due to their small size these sectors are naturally sensitive and are not able to withstand significant shocks such as Covid-19.

“There is no spot milk price for these milks in this country, so it is extremely important to manage milk volumes to retain stability in the marketplace, otherwise there is only one option and that is discarding milk,” she said.

These food products are predominantly sold as short shelf life fresh products which adds to the issue further.

In addition to the loss in market from the catering sector there has also been an immediate change in consumer purchasing habits away from premium products to staples and this is significantly impacting sales too.

Mrs Wastenage added: “The likely scenario is consumers will continue to follow their new retail buying habits and lower their spend on high value items such as non-bovine milk. This will reduce the pace at which the market will rebound.”

Already the deadweight values for goat carcasses has fallen from £150-£180 to £60 for those supplying the premium restaurant trade, which is below the cost of production.

Data from 15% of the goat milk market shows 8,000l of milk a week (14% of total supply) is being discarded, with production being reduced by 20,000 litres each month by drying off early and removing animals from the milking herd.

RABDF said the sector is trying to adapt to the situation, however, with such a specialist marketplace, it 'takes time to change'.

"We hope the government will offer immediate financial ‘loss of market’ support from now through to September 2020 to provide the breathing space for the sector to adjust,” Mrs Wastenage said.

“It is disappointing the sector was not included in the hardship fund for dairy farmers which was announced last week (6 May).

"However, due to the small size of the sector we hope the government can find a small sum of money to support them as without it, these farms will quite simply not survive,” she warned.