More and more dairy farmers are looking into milk vending machines in an effort to take control of the price they get paid.
Companies which sell the machines say they have noticed a significant increase in the number of enquiries this year and particularly in the last few months, as producers look to break their dependence on processors and sell direct.
UK dairy farmers are currently facing the lowest average farmgate milk prices in five years.
Norfolk dairy farmers Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore have been selling raw milk from their Swiss-made vending machine for four years, at £1/litre, with the rest going to Dairy Crest. Since the dairy crisis, the public had been even more supportive, said Mr Crickmore, and sales increased to 160 litres a day in the spring.
The couple recently started selling an Italian make of vending machine to other farmers, via their new company Fen Farm Dairy Milk Vending Machines.
“The last two to three weeks have been crazy,” said Mr Crickmore. “I’ve got a new person phoning every day.
“It’s a lot to do with milk prices and people looking at different ways to have more control.”
Many farmers ringing in were looking for alternatives out of frustration and sometimes “sheer desperation”, said Mr Crickmore.
Enquiries had been coming from all over the UK, he said. Mainly, they were smaller producers with herds of 100 or fewer lower-yielding cows like Jerseys, and with limited or no retail experience. Others tended to be dairy farmers with existing farm shops.
Tommy Szebeni from The Milk Station Company, which sells a Swiss make of milk vending machine, said enquiries had increased this year and particularly in the last few months, as farmers tried to increase the price they got for their milk.
“People are definitely looking around at what they can do on top of their existing business model,” said Mr Szebeni, with producers “from Scotland to the south of England” enquiring.
However, not all farms were suited to a vending machine, he warned. Farms in TB areas would struggle to sell milk direct unless they could pasteurise it themselves, and since raw milk could only be sold direct from the farm, those in more remote spots might struggle with footfall, he said.
Vending machine helps farm thrive
For the Crickmores though, their vending machine had helped their 300-cow business thrive. Mr Crickmore said the farm was bearing up well in the current crisis, but without the machine things would have been a lot tougher and they would not have been able to invest in the herd.
Selling raw direct to the public should not be undertaken lightly, though, said Mr Crickmore. It demanded commitment to continue to produce milk with high health and safety ratings.