A vital role

Rupert Cox

Rupert Cox - Credit: Archant

RUPERT COX highlights the importance of the dairy industry in Somerset and urges us to support our farmers

The Royal Bath & West calendar is rumbling along into autumn when the dairy farmers of the UK gather at The Dairy Show held at our showground at Shepton Mallet on 7 October. The purpose of making this statement is not to advertise the event, although readers are most welcome to attend, but to argue the importance of the dairy industry to our country and in particular Somerset – being the second largest dairy producing county behind Cheshire.

Having spent my early career in agriculture as an ovine technician (sheep famer) I have a real affinity with those trying to make a living off the land. Conversely, for the last 15 years I have been supporting the business community of Somerset as they tangled with the deepest recession the country has endured for several generations without the any external financial support and without guarantee of market or price. Now I am back closer to my farming roots I see again the challenges that our farmers face as they steadfastly preserve the sanctity of our unique and picturesque landscape for generations to come.

The demise of the farmers from within our villages has a knock-on effect on the social fabric of our communities. In days gone by the local farmer would cut the playing field hedges; provide bales of straw for the village fete skittles; provided a few fencing stakes for the latest tree planting scheme; drive a tractor & trailer to get a marquee for the Christmas Fair or village Fun Day or fertilise and weed kill the cricket pitch – all for free for love of the community. Furthermore he probably spent years and years giving public service to either the Parish Council, Village Hall Committee or both!

While the key role of the farmer is to produce food to feed the nation, it is important to reflect on how else this sometimes forgotten industry contributes to our communities.

At the moment the focus is on the price of milk from the farm and to the customer. There are indeed issues around exchange rates, global slowdown of demand, inefficient production models, and over supply in Europe, but it can never be morally right for supermarkets to sell milk at less per litre than they sell water! There is an old phrase (of which I have many) that dictates a ‘good day’s pay for a good day’s work’ and while this was first scribed in the days of hard labour, it is equally so relevant to the hours of heavy toil our farmers and their shrinking number of dairyman put in to bringing you, the consumer, the best quality milk anywhere in the world at a price below the cost of production.

This makes The Dairy Show even more relevant as we showcase the very best of the UK dairy industry at a time when the financial pressures could not be tougher on the family farms of Somerset. The Bath & West can work with the industry to help them be more efficient leading to greater financial stability, but you can do your bit to help – ‘Buy British’ dairy products and be proud of the dairy farmers of Somerset.

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Farmers are more than just food producers; they are the bedrock that maintains our landscape and contributors to the social cohesion of our rural parishes.