WHEN the Man-in-Charge was a young James Herriot, plying his trade among the hill farmers of West Yorkshire, he soon discovered just how difficult life is for the nation’s small dairy producers.
He’d frequently receive telephone calls at ungodly hours of the morning, asking him to attend the troubled arrival of a calf or a sick cow.
I once asked him if these farmers stayed up all night with their animals, just in case something happened.
His response was: “No, they just get up early – EVERY morning.”
He’d return several hours later as the rest of us were enjoying our cornflakes and put his clothes into a bucket of disinfectant to soak off the blood. I used to wonder how many times vets were questioned during the search for serial killer Peter Sutcliffe.
The farms he worked on were usually in the middle of nowhere and had been in families for generations.
Most were eking a living from their herds and few had many luxuries to show for their hard work.
And so the dairy farmers currently protesting over milk prices have both my sympathy and support.
Milk at the moment, wherever you buy it, is cheap.
It doesn’t need to be cheaper. No animal product should be.
Supermarkets have no business trying to drive down the price of such a basic, staple product. But it is the consumer who has the final say on this issue. If we stop to think about why a product is cheap – poorer welfare standards for animals and tiny profits for the person who actually produces the product – then most reasonable people wouldn’t mind paying a few pence more. But, of course, we’d want to be sure that the few pence extra went to the farmer and not the supermarket.
Whenever I see one of those ‘back pocket-slapping adverts’ promising the cheapest of everything I always wonder who the supermarkets are screwing over in order to deliver and just how sustainable it can be in the long term.