Things turn sour as Ness dairy farmer gives up after 30 years
A South Mainland dairy farmer will quit producing milk by the beginning of next year, saying that he sees no “long-term future” for the local industry.
Derek Flaws has been a dairy farmer for 30 years and a shareholder of Shetland Farm Dairies since it was bought from Robert Wiseman Dairies in 1994.
He took over control of the farm from his uncle in 1986 but has decided he can no longer justify remaining in the business. His decision comes as the local dairy industry in Shetland continues to suffer problems.
In May the manager of Shetland Farm Dairies, Gerry Byers, warned that around 40 per cent of milk consumed in Shetland comes from outwith the isles. This could be put down to a number of issues, including the lower price of milk from the mainland being sold in supermarkets.
Mr Flaws said that his decision was linked to a number of these long-term problems, but added that his chief reason for quitting was because it was a “twice a day, seven day a week, 365 day a year job” and that he could not afford to hire an employee to ease his burden.
In the past Mr Flaws used to rely on his parents to help him with the twice daily task of milking but said that their age makes this unrealistic for the future.
Since 2013 the number of milking cows on his farm at Fleck, Dunrossness, has been cut by about 20, because of reduced demand.
Mr Flaws felt that one reason for the lower demand for Shetland milk was the smaller number of oil and gas workers working in Shetland.
He said: “I think in recent years sales were at a false high because of the gas plant and the oil terminal.”
Mr Flaws now feels that lower demand means there is “no room for four dairy farms. And the others have employees and families”.
Another problem highlighted by Mr Flaws was the continued presence of cheap imports with longer sell by dates. He said that this meant the dairies relied on goodwill for people to buy local produce at a higher price than brand name milk.
He said: “We can’t compete with them on price because of the cost of farming here. We have to import feed and fertiliser. All other costs continue to increase.”
“It costs a fortune to produce milk here but the price has stayed the same for 20 years. If I figured out my hourly rate it wouldn’t be very much.”
Mr Flaws felt that another problem for local farmers was the changing climate. He said that in the past two years his cows had not been put out to pasture until June which “has never happened afore.”
He added: “You might not believe it but the winters are getting longer. We have a very short growing season here which makes it difficult to balance production through the year.”
Although he intends to give up on his dairy cows Mr Flaws said that he intended to carry on farming beef cattle and sheep.
He added: “I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to myself.”