Third generation dairy farmer tells us why it’s turning sour down on his farm near Grantham

John Kerr of Hill Farm and Alison Gemmell of the NFU
John Kerr of Hill Farm and Alison Gemmell of the NFU
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A dairy farmer whose family has worked the land near Grantham for three generations has spoken of the crisis facing his industry.

John Kerr, who keeps 200 cows at Hill Farm, Dry Doddington, fears there will be no early end to the problems afflicting farmers across the country, some of whom have been driven out of business following a catastrophic slump in prices paid for milk.

Talks were taking place this week between supermarket bosses and dairy famers who claim they are having to sell milk for less than it costs to produce.

News reports in recent days have shown some protesting farmers removing milk from supermarket shelves and even leading cows through stores.

Mr Kerr has seen a cut in the amount he is paid, but he says he is in a better situation than many of his colleagues in the industry.

This is down to the terms of the contract he has to supply milk to Dairy Crest, Britain’s biggest dairy business.

He said: “The milk price has reduced over the last six months but I have a reasonable contract with Dairy Crest compared to a lot of others.

“The price I am paid is all related to costs, including feed and transport and is in effect a tracker price.

“The situation has become more difficult in the last three months. I am not losing money, but we are not able to reinvest as we would like to.”

The situation is further complicated for Mr Kerr because of a proposed £80 million sale by Dairy Crest of its dairies business to rivals Muller UK and Ireland.

He said: “We are in limbo. We have been told that our contracts will be honoured until April, but nobody is telling us what is going on.

“Two years ago we were all optimistic but now things are very different. We are in a global market and this country is not self-sufficient in dairy products, so the price of milk depends on world markets.

“Then there is the question of over production. Everybody has had a good spring when the cows have milked well, so that affects the price as well.

“I can see it getting harder and harder. I am in it for the long run but the harder it gets the more demoralising it is.

“It’s not so bad at this time of year but when you are up and out at 5am in the middle of winter I do sometimes ask myself ‘why am I doing this?’.”

Mr Kerr is the third generation working the family-owned farm and his dad, 87-year-old Vic, is still an active presence.

John has no intention of turning his back on the industry, even if this were possible, but confirms his children will not be following him into the business.

He said: “I’m the third generation here, but there won’t be a fourth. I have four daughters but they are all making a future away from the industry – they’ve got more sense.

“Anyway, I cant retire before my father, can I?”

As well as the dairy business, Hill Farm has 500 acres given over to crops, but Mr Kerr says switching is not the answer.

He said: “Arable farming is also prone to world markets and the price has fallen sharply here as well.

“We just have to see it through. You can whinge all you like but all you can do is make sure you control your costs and hope there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“At the end of the day I enjoy the job...it’s just more challenging than I would like at the moment. The situation is changing all the time and there is nothing we can do.”

Mr Kerr says farmers do not expect the Government to intervene.

He said: “In the good old days there was the Milk Marketing Board which negotiated with the supermarkets but I can’t see anything similar being brought back because everything is geared towards a free market now and EU regulations.”