By Olivia Cooper

MILK production could plummet this winter as a result of foot-and-mouth, says First Milk, Britains largest farmer-owned dairy business.

“The milk industry is facing a cliff edge in the late autumn,” says chairman John Duncan.

“Current buoyant production levels – which have seen output stay ahead of last year despite the foot-and-mouth cull – will not be sustained into the winter.”

Milk production has been strong due to the number of extra cows kept on farm because the over-thirty-months-scheme (OTMS) was not operating.

“But farmers are telling us that they cannot bear the costs of feeding and housing these cows through the winter months.”

Although OTMS is up-and-running again, only 9000 animals are being processed a week, compared with the normal demand of about 13,000 cows.

The backlog is not being reduced, and First Milk expects production to be above average until September.

“But by November, only a fraction of this extra milk will still be there.”

Compounding the effect, one in three cattle were subject to an average of six weeks delay for insemination.

Where they should have been coming into milk in the New Year, there will now be a “serious shortfall” in the first quarter, says Mr Duncan.