Holstein Friesian dairy heifers, herd standing in pasture© FLPA / John Eveson/REX/Shutterstock

Dairy farm numbers in Scotland have fallen to a new historic low, with Banffshire now having no recorded herds following the closure of its last remaining unit.

According to figures released by the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association (SDCA), 17 farms closed during the 2016 calendar year, taking the number of dairy farms in Scotland to 957.

This is the lowest number since records began 1903.

See also: North Yorkshire sees largest drop in dairy farmer numbers

The number of herds declined in nine counties, with Lanarkshire seeing the largest drop as six farms closed last year.

The figures show that Ayrshire remains the strongest area for dairying with 229 herds. In contrast, Banffshire has none, Inverness-shire has one and Berwickshire has two.

The number of cows also dropped by 2,529, but at 173,306 this is still the second highest level since 1997.

‘Horrible year’

Janette Mathie, secretary of the SDCA, said 2016 had been a horrible year for many dairy farmers, with farmgate prices below the costs of production for much of the year.

Looking to the future, there were early signs that at least four completely new dairy farms would start production in 2017 and others might increase cow numbers.

However, she added: “The SDCA would strongly advocate that industry-funded bodies spend a far larger share of their funding on promoting dairy produce to the public, which in turn would benefit both the producer and milk processor.”

George Jamieson, NFU Scotland dairy policy manager, said he was surprised that more farmers hadn’t left the industry, given that those on a non-aligned contract had been losing money for 18 months.

The fact that so many people had managed to hold on, despite the pressures, was testament to their resilience and some serious cost-cutting.

He warned: “A lot of people are still on the edge, but I hope they will pull through. For the future, we need more trust and collaboration in the supply chain and contracts that are fit for purpose.

“We need a supply chain that can manage volume, price volatility and shares the risks and rewards.”

More money for dairy promotion

Amanda Ball, AHDB dairy sector strategy director, said she welcomed the SDCA’s call for more money to be spent promoting dairy produce as it reflected the intentions and aspirations of AHDB Dairy.

“Building on the trust and reputation to increase value and demand for British milk and dairy products is a significant priority in the recently launched AHDB Dairy Strategy,” she said.

“We are working with Dairy UK and its processor members on a plan to promote the essential role of dairy as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

“We look forward to discussing our plans with the dairy industry in Scotland in the coming months.”

England and Wales

Producer numbers for England and Wales fell by 156 between January 2016 and January 2017.

Figures collected by the Food Standards Agency show there were 9,477 dairy farms in England and Wales at the beginning of this year, a drop of 1.6% on the previous year.