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British church leaders give support to dairy farmers

Posted on: October 13, 2015 8:07 AM
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, with farmer Tony Evans at the Marcoss Dairy Farm milking parlour
Photo Credit: Church in Wales

[ACNS] Dairy farmers in Wales have won the support of the Archbishop of the province in the ongoing UK dairy-farm crisis; as British church leaders speak out in support of the country's dairy sector.

Market forces means that many dairy farmers in the UK are forced to sell their milk at a lower price than it costs to produce; while a supermarket price war has seen cheaper milk being imported into Great Britain from as far away as Poland.

Public opinion is with the farmers, and one British supermarket, Morrisons, has this week launched a new “Milk for Farmers” brand which will sell at £1.12 GBP ($1.72 USD) for four pints – an increase of 23 pence on the standard price of 89 pence. The extra revenue will find its way back into the dairy industry.

With other retailers are watching the initiative closely, farmers’ leaders are hoping it will prove to be popular with consumers. “We are pleased that Morrisons has acknowledged the desperate situation that many dairy farmers still find themselves in and recognise that retailers have a big role to play in, helping customers to support the UK dairy sector,” Rob Harrison, the dairy board chairman of the National Farmers Union said.

“Research from Mintel revealed over half of people who drink cows’ milk, would be prepared to pay more than £1 for a four-pint bottle of milk, as long as it is dairy farmers that benefit. This new initiative will enable them to do just that.”

On the day that the Milk for Farmers brand went on sale for the first time, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, visited the Marcross dairy farm in the Vale of Glamorgan. Marcross has been farmed by four generations of the same family; but current owners, Tony and Sharon Evans, fear that it may not survive into a fifth generation.

The farm has 180 milking cows, and loses 5 pence on every litre of milk they produce. They are facing a projected deficit this year of £100,000.
Marcoss Farmer Sharon Evans is a member of the Church in Wales Rural Life Group. She said: “When you look at the cash-flow for the year it is horrific. We are having to face very tough decisions such as whether or not to go to three milkings a day or whether to invest more than half-a-million pounds in a robotic milking system.”
The Evans’ son, Hopkin, added: “Dairy farming doesn’t pay any more but it’s not just something you can turn off. This crisis could last another 12 months. If we lose these cows we lose their link with this land – they have been here for generations too – Marcross is part of their DNA and once that’s gone there’s no getting it back.”
Like many dairy farmers, the Evans’ family have diversified into other businesses to subsidise the dairy. In this case they set up a caravan park in Llandow 24 years ago the Llandow racing circuit 50 years ago.
“It is sobering to think that farmers who just stayed in dairy around 10 years ago without diversifying have now had to sell up,” the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said. “In that context, the enthusiasm of young farmers like Hopkin and the persistence of his parents are genuinely amazing and inspiring.
“While dairy farming is not a huge concern in the diocese of Llandaff [the Archbishop’s home diocese], which is mostly urban, it is nationally as most of Wales is rural.

“It is much more difficult, of course, for farmers who don’t live near large centres of populations, to diversify into something profitable enough to subsidise the farm. If this crisis in dairy continues it will inevitably impact on all of us and that is why we need to act now to protect our farmers and ensure they get a fair price for their milk.”
Archbishop Morgan visited Marcross Farm with the Diocese of Llandaff’s rural life adviser, the Revd the Revd Anthony Beer.

He said: “As a church we are concerned about our neighbours who farm and who are becoming increasingly isolated as they have to put in extra hours. We are doing all we can to support them, such as maintaining links by visiting them on the farms and  this year churches in the Llantwit Major area are donating their Harvest Festival collections to the Farming Community Network charity which helps and advises struggling farmers.”
Mrs Evans added, “It really does mean a lot to have the church alongside.  I know we have assets and we are by no means poor, but we are struggling, and it’s not the money side of it that we are afraid of losing.”

The Arthur Rank Centre is an ecumenical initiative to support those working in agriculture in Britain. Its chief executive, Jerry Marshall, said: “The number of dairy farmers has halved over little more than a decade. Prices are at their lowest since 2007 while costs have risen 36 per cent.”

It is a call supported by the Church of England’s national rural officer, Canon Dr Jill Hopkinson. “Churches can support the industry by buying British dairy products. . . Church members could also show their support through choosing to buy milk from supermarkets that pay a fair price to farmers.”

The sector is attracting support from across the denominations. The Revd Elizabeth Clark, national rural officer for the Methodist and United Reformed churches, said: “British dairy farmers are facing an exceptionally difficult time so we are calling on churches to pray for the industry. Give thanks for the vital food that dairy farmers produce [and] pray for those struggling because of the present low prices.”