Fresh fears raised over future of dairy industry in isles

Doubts have been voiced about the future of Shetland’s milk industry after one producer with nearly four decades’ experience in the business bowed out. There is also uncertainty over two other dairy farms.

Brian Anderson, joint owner of Kergord Farm, this week reluctantly began selling off the family herd. He said the decision to exit dairy production was “not something we’ve done lightly”, blaming a combination of factors including low prices, undercutting from imported milk and the long hours involved in production.

It comes only weeks after the 676-acre Noss Farm at Scousburgh, which includes dairy buildings for up to 90 cows, was put up for sale. Like Mr Anderson’s business, Noss Farm has quota and shares in Shetland Farm Dairies, the co-operative which sells milk to dozens of shops and businesses in the islands.

With a third dairy producer understood to be facing financial difficulties, there are fears that the number of suppliers to the farm dairy could be halved in the months ahead.

Shetland Farm Dairies manager Gerry Byres said the industry was “going through a transition period”, but he is confident it will emerge as a “leaner, more efficient” organisation.

Mr Anderson spoke of the tough time milk producers, often “one-man bands” and “very hard-working fellows”, faced. They are out of bed at 5am every morning, including on Christmas Day, carrying out “hell of an intensive work”, and with very low unemployment in Shetland he said it was difficult to attract people into dairying.

“Loading the cattle today, it’s vexing to see it going,” he said. “The cows now are as good as they’ve ever been. We’ve had no real price rise in milk for a long time now, and we’re concerned – I don’t see it getting any better.”

Mr Byres said it was “sad to see anyone quitting”, but the problems faced by individual producers were “a private issue for the suppliers”, and he remains optimistic it should not hinder the dairy’s capacity too severely.

At present there are six suppliers, and though in the worst case scenario that could fall to three, Mr Byres said he hoped a buyer could be found to continue Noss as a dairy farm. He also anticipates that the remaining producers will “increase their herd and produce more milk”.

He said it was vital that local people, and multinational companies, recognised the value of maintaining local production: “Anything that’s community-based can’t just be wiped clean – the dairy industry has to stay and it will stay.”

The problems faced by Shetland’s dairy industry come amid strife nationally. UK farmers this week marched on Westminster urging the UK government to set out a fairer pricing structure for milk.

Shetland producers are at a major competitive disadvantage to mainland producers, with Mr Byres estimating costs to be 30 per cent higher. As well as higher fuel prices, longer winters mean cattle need to be fed on silage for up to eight months of the year, which is much more expensive than feeding them on grass.

Supermarkets frequently sell imported milk on special offers, in line with nationwide campaigns. Mr Byres said that such offers generally had to be funded by the supplier, and at the moment that was unaffordable for Shetland Farm Dairies.

A Tesco spokeswoman said the supermarket worked with hundreds of local and national suppliers across the country, and sold around 40 locally sourced products in Shetland. She said: “We will be visiting Shetland this summer to spend time with our local suppliers and look at bringing even more Shetland produce to the stores.”

A Co-operative Food spokesman said: “We always aim to provide our customers with a choice of good quality products at competitive prices. In Shetland, our standard milk range, outside of organic and speciality one per cent milk, is fresh milk produced in Shetland. Our prices, including any special offers, are in line with comparable Co-operative Food stores elsewhere.”

For full version of this story, see tomorrow’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • Paula goddard

    • July 12th, 2012 16:49

    This is too important for us to ignore . Fresh milk from cows that are reared and grazed in our own locality ,or milk from unknown european herds ? I know what my choice is .

  • Ron Stronach

    • July 13th, 2012 12:17

    I coundn’t agree more, there are too many industries being closed down and imports taking there place. Some you cant do anything about, but fresh milk produced in Shetland is something everyone can support?

  • Sandy McMillan

    • July 13th, 2012 15:42

    I understood Tescos and the Coop, were to buy in local produce, they do but in a case like this surely they could buy in more, there are nights 20.00 hrs, you run out of milk, go to Tesco or the Coop, they also have no milk. there is case for the local milk producers to approach the Supemarkets, and put on there salesman banter
    Sandy McMillan

  • Sandy McMillan

    • July 13th, 2012 15:56

    When it comes to the fuel issue, would it not make more sence for the Shetland Charitable Trust, SIC, to invest in there own tanker to bring fuel to Shetland, this way they would cut out the middle man, then every one would atleast be getting somthing, cheaper fuel for there car, fishermen, farmers, haulage, coach co, taxi households and many more would benefit, and forget these Wind Farms that will not even give out a spark of electricity to Shetland

  • David Spence

    • July 14th, 2012 0:36

    I have to agree with Sandy regarding his last comments on Viking Energy and whether or not Shetland will benefit from the power created by the turbines or whether the selected few who have shares in the VE Project will sell the electricity to the highest bidder………which is the obvious strategy and plan for this whole monstrosity which will scar Shetland. It is your typical short term thinking capitalist who cares not about the long term damage they do…..only the short term profit they will make….and as for the shareholders of the VE Project, You should be ashamed of calling yourselves Shetlander’s when all you care about is lining your own pocket due to your insatiable appetite for greed and money. Look after number is your priority regardless to what destruction you (share holders, owners, management of VE) caused to these beautiful islands.


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