Cheddar cheese© Rex

UK dairy exports outstripped the rest of the food and drink sector to reach a record high last year.

In 2014, dairy shipments from the UK rose 8.8% in value to £1.4bn. Total food and non-alcoholic drink exports increased 2.6% to £12.8bn.

Cheese exports rose 5.6% and made up one-third of dairy shipments from the UK. Cheese was the third most important food export by value after salmon and chocolate.

This helped the UK’s annual dairy trade deficit to fall to its lowest level in three years in 2014. The deficit shrunk 12% to £1.195m, the smallest figure since 2011.

But while import volumes fell 5% and exports rose 19%, lower wholesale prices across the world put severe pressure on the industry.

Farming minister George Eustice said it was particularly encouraging to see UK dairy farmers seize new opportunities to export.

The high milk supplies that weighed heavily on milk prices over the past 12 months continue to dip below last year’s levels.

UK daily deliveries in the two weeks ending 14 March averaged 39.8m litres/day – 0.5% lower than the same time last year. This was still 4.8% above the three-year average.