The furore surrounding plans for an 8,100-cow dairy farm in Lincolnshire masks the fact that much of the milk we drink already comes from industrial-scale farms, according to industry figures.
Nocton Dairies Ltd has submitted a planning application for what will be the UK’s largest dairy farm, just south of Lincoln, producing up to 250,000 litres of milk per day.
Opponents of the scheme have expressed concerns about animal welfare, the spread of disease and the effect on smaller scale dairy farmers.
However, farming analysts said the size of the dairy unit was not surprising and was 'symbolic of an ongoing trend' towards increasingly large farms.
Figures for 2008/9 from the industry body, DairyCo, show that 22 per cent of milk consumed in Great Britain comes from dairy farms with 290 or more cows. The figure rises to almost 60 per cent when you include dairy farms with 150 or more cows.
'The industry is moving towards larger scale and zero-grazing units,' said Hugh Bowles from the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), a cooperative of around 500 British organic dairy farmers. 'And all the industry drivers are pushing the farmers in that direction.'
Penalising small farms
Bowles said the per litre milk price given to smaller scale dairy farms was sometimes as little as half that given to larger farms. 'It is more expensive to pick up 500 litres than 5,000 litres of milk,' he said.
However, Bowles warned against the rush for economies of scale.
'A lot of people are putting in bigger units, but in the past they have not lasted long because they are dependent on getting a good return. All the incentives for producers are to get larger and larger, but it is not necessarily proven that they are more profitable,' he said.
The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) said the dairy industry needed a debate on 'whether this is where it wants to take itself'.
'The 8,000 cow dairy businesses do exist in China and for them it might be the way to go to feed themselves. But biggest is not always necessarily best,' said RABDF vice-chairman David Cotton.
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