A dairy herd in a field© Tim Scrivener

Dairy farming in the south-west of England contributes £3.3bn to the local economy, a report by the NFU has revealed.

This figure would be substantially higher, were it to also include the value added to dairy products after they leave the region, farm diversification businesses and farmers contributions to the environment and in attracting tourism.

The report highlighted the importance of a fair milk price as well as assistance from government, local economic partnerships, banks and other funding and infrastructure bodies to ensure the continuation of this sector in the region.

See also: What makes a top performing dairy herd?

Despite falling cow and producer numbers, the South West is still home to 38% of dairy cows and 37% of dairy holdings and producers in England.

The number of cows in the region fell by 9.14% between 2005 and 2013 to 423,205 animals, while producer numbers fell far more drastically, down 51.93% between 2002 and 2016 to 2,885. 

National decline

Both statistics mimicked national trends and highlighted that, despite large numbers of producers leaving the industry following the worst dairy crisis for 20 years, most animals have been absorbed into existing holdings, driving up the average UK herd size.

The dairy industry provides 13,900 jobs across a region that has some of the lowest-paid workers in the whole of northern Europe.

Taking dairy for granted

“This [£3.3bn figure] has been achieved despite the challenges which face the industry, in particular continued problems with low commodity prices and the fight against bovine TB,” said Andrew Branton, chairman, South West NFU dairy board.

“The presence of dairy farmers must not be taken for granted and they need to have a profitable future if we want to continue to see them generate millions of pounds for the economy.”

Devon is by far the highest milk producing county in the South West, accounting for more than 1bn litres of milk in 2014-15, about 400m litres more than the nearest county – Somerset.