dairy cows in Scotland©FLPA/Rex

The Scottish government’s much-heralded Dairy Action Plan has received a lukewarm reception, even from the farmers who hosted its launch.

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead unveiled his milk industry strategy on an Angus farm and urged the country’s 900 dairy farmers to show resilience during the current market volatility.

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But the plan which contains assurances that government is putting measures in place to develop a Scottish dairy brand and get more local produce on retail shelves as well as support First Milk to transform its business, is short on detail.

Action plan themes

  • Market development
  • Promoting best practice in dairy farming
  • Promoting a transparent and efficient supply chain
  • Supporting First Milk in transforming its operation in Scotland
  • Ensuring international rules are correct

Nevertheless, Mr Lochhead claimed the launch was a “pivotal moment” for the sector.

“The Dairy Review has been implemented and the various action points from that are due to be implemented in the next year or two. If you look back at the volatility of the industry over decades, this is an opportunity to move things forward,” he said.

Angus dairy farmers Willie and James Taylor showed Mr Lochhead round their 280-cow unit and said the plan’s objectives were “all very well”, but the industry couldn’t wait for two years for marketing to improve.

“It’s fine to come out and show he’s taking notice of farmers, and that’s his job. But instead of being here he should be talking to Muller or Arla or First Milk. They’re the people he needs on board or the branding and marketing is never going to take off,” said James.

“People are worried right now,” added Willie. “We’ve seen a price drop from 32.5ppl to 24ppl in the space of a year and that means a reduction of £150,000 in income, which is colossal for a business this size. But we’ve invested £500,000 in slurry tanks, a parlour and new sheds in the past five years, so we can’t just walk away.

“It makes me angry when I read we need to become more efficient, because we can go no further down that line without it being detrimental to the health and welfare of the stock.”

However Mr Lochhead said the government’s strategy to help the industry had met with approval from many dairy farmers.

He added: “They like the idea of more public procurement to source more produce from Scotland; they like the launch of a Scottish dairy brand in October; and they like the idea of us supporting Campbeltown Creamery with investment.”