NFU Survey: 10% of British dairy producers likely to stop producing milk by 2025

The NFU’s Dairy Intentions Survey of nearly 600 UK dairy farmers across England and Wales published in 2023 found that almost 10% of producers believe they are likely to stop producing milk by 2025, up from 7% since the previous survey. The UK’s National Farmers’ Union survey results are worrying as the dairy sector has an uncertain future. Poor prices, insufficient returns, volatile markets and the scale of on-farm investment required are why many of Britain’s dairy farmers responded this way to the survey. In addition, increases in input prices, including feed (84%), energy (83%) and fertilizer (74%) are all particular areas of concern.

Smaller producers, with less than 1 million litres of milk per year, are the most impacted by the ongoing market situation compared to those producing higher volumes. And smaller enterprises are more likely to stop production beyond the next two years. A further 23% said they were “unsure” if their business would continue producing milk beyond March 2025, thinking hard about their future in the sector. Based on figures from the AHDB, there are currently an estimated 7,500 dairy producers in Great Britain, a decrease of 4.8% since 2022.

Over one-third (36%) of those ceasing production are doing so due to retirement, with almost a fifth (18%) handing over their farm to the next generation. Almost three-quarters (74%) of respondents also cited access to farm labour as a barrier to growth. Over half (52%) of producers stopping production cannot keep up with the scale of investment required for their enterprise to stay compliant. One of them is slurry storage, a factor highlighted as a main concern for the majority (91%) when considering whether to increase production in the future. For this reason, the NFU is pressing for dairy farmers to have easier access to funding in the environmental framework, such as DEFRA’s Slurry Infrastructure Grant and the SFI (Sustainable Farming Incentive), to have the necessary support to move forward. As the NFU Dairy Board chair Michael Oakes said: “Inflation and production costs are putting the long-term resilience of dairy farming under threat, leading to a “crisis of confidence” amongst British dairy farmers. The survey results identified supply chain fairness as a key factor, with almost 90% of dairy producers saying this was important to support future milk production. New industry-wide contract regulation expected to come in later this year must support fairer, more transparent and accountable supply chains. But regulation isn’t a silver bullet,” – he commented – “With increasing global demand for British dairy, we know that the long-term future is bright for our sector. To maximize this potential, the government must continue to work with us to ensure we have the right environmental, regulatory and trade framework to support the production of high-quality, nutritious and sustainable food“.

With protests by farmers increasing across Europe, this feeling of being unsure about whether to continue in farming is shaping up to be a common feeling for many farmers outside of the UK as well.