The past 10 years have seen 10,000 milk producers leave the sector – and many challenges mean others may be thinking about doing the same.
In the first of our Difficult Decisions series, Farmers Weekly’s deputy business editor Gemma Mackenzie talks to her own family and others who have made that tough choice
Mackenzie family, Goathill Farm Dairy, Isle of Lewis – Closure marks the end of an era
Rising input costs, competition with supermarkets on price, a dwindling customer base and difficult growing conditions led to my family ceasing dairy production in October 2012.
My father, Gordon Mackenzie (pictured below), is a third-generation dairy farmer in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. His decision to quit marks the closure of the last remaining dairy farm in the Western Isles. In fact Grandpa Hamish, 78, says we were the last liquid milk-producing dairy on the west coast of Scotland from Oban to Orkney.
I’m too young to remember the heyday, but at our peak the family was milking more than 140 cows across two sites, producing, bottling and delivering milk to a third of the island’s population. Both Dad and Gramps admit it was once a very profitable business.
Come the late 1980s it was all change, though, with the advent of larger supermarkets on the island – first up the Co-op, followed by Presto – bringing with them the loss-leader culture for milk. Despite a short period of supplying milk to the supermarkets, my family soon realised they couldn’t compete on price.
Thereafter our customer base slowly declined, and rather than dropping us completely, they gradually reduced the amount of milk they were buying. However, we were still having to drive from house to house to deliver it, just selling less milk in the process – a problem heightened by increasing diesel costs over the years.
That, topped with expensive haulage costs to get feed and fertiliser to the island – at around £45/pallet (1.5t) – resulted in the business contracting and by the late 1990s we were only milking on one site.