25 August 1995

Production and quality of milk suffers in heat

By Shelley Wright

MILK production and quality across Britain has been seriously affected by the drought, leading to shortages for dairy companies.

Milk Marque has had to invoke an emergency clause "force majeure" to allow it to break its customer contracts. To cope with the 70m litre, or 10%, cut in milk production this month MM has reduced its supply to dairies to about 3% below the contracted volumes.

It has warned that the shortage will continue for about a month. "But this very much depends on when the drought ends and the subsequent effects on production," said chief executive, Andrew Dare.

The cut in milk supplies is affecting dairy companies but they are still maintaining their supplies to the fresh liquid market.

MD Foods and Northern Foods both said they were still meeting all their fresh milk orders. Gerald Searle from MD Foods predicted that cheese makers would close their factories and sell their milk to the liquid dairies if the shortage continued.

Supply diverted

Dairy Crest closed its Davidstow cheddar factory this week. The plant will be out of action for at least a month and the milk supply will be diverted to the companys fresh milk dairies.

An official said the months closure would make cheese stocks tight but would not cause undue problems. But if the milk shortage continued beyond that then a cheese price rise later in the year might have to be considered.

But any attempts to raise the cheddar price could leave the UK open to imports from Ireland, where milk production is running ahead of last year.

Nestlés head of milk procurement, John Ross, was more concerned about the drop in milk quality rather than the lower volumes. The lower protein and fat in the milk resulted in lower product yields and increased costs, he said.

Scottish Milk has reported a 2% shortfall in supplies but remains confident that it can maintain supplies to customers within contract tolerances for the current month.

Northern Ireland is less seriously affected.