A virus attack on the IT system of the company responsible for analysing bulk milk quality on thousands of UK dairy farms could have repercussions for milk payments.
The attack on 13 September disabled services provided by the National Milk Records (NMR) Group, including reporting systems on milk payment testing.
It is not known who is behind the attack, which penetrated specific hardware, but some farmers fear it could be the work of anti-dairy activists intent on disrupting the industry.
NMR insists there has been no data breach. It was forced to shut down all its IT systems as a precautionary measure and has gradually reintroduced some of the services, but others were still unavailable nearly a week after the attack.
NMR, through National Milk Laboratories (NML), holds the contract for milk quality sampling for many UK dairy processors.
This information is used to calculate payments, so the implications for dairy farmers could be significant.
NMR said although payment testing has resumed, it is taking longer to bring its reporting systems back online.
“As a result, the business has introduced interim measures to report payment test results to both processors and individual farmers. This has included reporting all antibiotics failures by phone,” it said in a statement.
Milk recording services are not expected to be restored to normal until 23 September.
“The business is gradually rebuilding the servers that are responsible for providing milk recording,” the statement added.
“All customers affected by the disruption to service are being contacted individually to explain the situation.”
The NMR Group offers a range of other testing and reporting services, which the company said would be brought back online “in a structured and controlled way”.
The company issued an apology to its customers, pledging to undertake an end-to-end review of all its systems and processes to prevent future virus attacks.
Farmers frustrated by lack of ‘vital’ information
In addition to the bactoscan and cell count readings that dictate the payment band for milk, dairy farmers rely on the results of milk quality sampling to inform decisions about milk butterfat and protein levels.
Pembrokeshire dairy farmer and First Milk supplier Daniel James, who has a cheese contract, said this information was vital.
“I need this information to work out the herd diet, to know that we are feeding correctly,” he said. “It is surprising how much we use this information.”
Mr James was informed by text message on Tuesday (17 September) that he would temporarily be unable to access NMR services.
He milk records and being unable to access his latest results is having implications for resolving a recent issue with high cell counts.
“I also use Herd Companion, but have been unable to get the data I need for making decisions around drying off,” he added.
Dairy farmer and NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones said this attack highlighted the weakness of having a single supplier for bulk milk sampling.
“The processors have driven down the margins for delivering this service to a point where they don’t have a fallback position,” he said.