Drop in GB milk production driven by yields?

Published 3 March 16

GB production figures for January are put at 1,038m litres, up 28m litres (2.8%) on January last year. This is the smallest year-on-year rise for 4 months, and significantly lower than the 5.5% rise recorded in December. The overall monthly figures, however, don’t tell the full story.

Up until last week, milk production in GB had fallen by 1.5% since the start of 2016. This is equivalent to a reduction of 500,000 litres per day. As reported on 16 February, milk production normally increases between the start of January and the end of February, albeit slowly. In fact, production hasn’t fallen during that period for the last 6 years, on average increasing by 2.4%.

Why is production falling?

In terms of cow numbers, the last census numbers available are from June 2015. The Defra December 2015 census results won’t be available for a number of weeks. In June, the dairy herd was the largest it had been for seven years, and replacements appeared to be plentiful.

According to the latest slaughter statistics, the number of dairy sired cows being culled continues to track behind last year. January saw a 15% drop in dairy sired cull cows compared with January last year. Those looking to remove cows from the system are not being helped by cull cow prices running 10% down on last year, although up compared with the prices achieved in November and December. So, at the moment, there are no signs that the drop in milk production is a result of fewer cows.

That turns us to yield. Farmers should be scrutinising every input to determine whether the additional cost is worth paying compared with the value of the extra milk. That will be especially true for those on A&B pricing. With feed being one of the key input costs, it is likely farmers have reacted to the low milk prices by cutting back on feed, and yields have dropped as a result. However, due to the timing of data becoming available, the full picture, and reason for the fall, is not yet fully clear.