Output falls in dry August
By Philip Clarke
MILK output took a sharp downturn during the driest August on record, ending the month more than 6% below quota.
But producers should not be lured into a false sense of security and could see autumn production back over target, warn quota agents.
Latest figures from the Intervention Board put monthly butterfat adjusted production at 1.104bn litres, or 6.6% under quota. Cumulatively, in the first five months of the milk year the UK produced 6bn litres, or just 0.27% over quota.
An alternative measure, favoured by some, is to compare this years output with last years. On this basis August deliveries were a significant 9% down on August 1994.
The cumulative total is running 2% lower than last year, equivalent to 132m litres. Given that the UK ended the last milk year 176m litres over quota, this implies deliveries from September onwards only need to be back by another 44m litres in order to meet quota and avoid super-levy.
But some quota agents believe there is more to the drop in summer production than the drought.
"There has been a definite shift towards autumn calving in recent years," claimed Mark Dyson of south-west quota agent, Townsend. "Producers could be unpleasantly surprised to discover in late September and October that national supplies are over quota again." He also claims that the IBs quota profile is out of date and producer optimism that they may not need to obtain extra quota is misplaced.
But this argument is dismissed by the IB. "The profile is no more out of date than it has ever been," said quota specialist, Ruth Tomkins. "It can only ever be a best estimate of monthly production and no profile could ever have predicted this summers drought.
"At the end of the day, milk producers must look at their own situation and at their groups production. The days of waiting for others to bail you out (by under-producing) are long gone."
She added that the IB was currently seeking information from buyers to update the profile and this would be done as soon as possible. "But the total quota wont change."
The supposed shift in calving patterns was also questioned by ADAS head of dairying John Sumner. "I have asked my field staff to look at this and they have not detected any major change among our Milk Cheque clients," he said.
AI figures from Genus also fail to indicate any discernible shift in calvings. September is, therefore, also likely to be below quota.
How quickly production then catches up will depend mainly on feed supplies, suggests Mr Sumner. June census figures also point to a 4.2% drop in dairy cow numbers, to 1.82m, which could limit the ability for milk output to recover. *