Supply and demand are key forces in economics and the dairy industry is beset by excessive supply and flagging demand, leading to a situation in which prices for many farmers have fallen below the cost of production, although there are signs of a revival in prices.
The supply crisis was started by the end of milk quotas in 2015 and the Russian embargo on European dairy products. However, there has been a seven per cent fall in UK milk production and both global prices and those paid by milk processors are edging upwards.
On the demand side, the EU has brought in a milk reduction scheme which pays 12p for every litre not produced compared with output in the same period the year before, up to a maximum of 50 per cent.
The problem with schemes of this sort is 'additionality': do they change behaviour, or are they simply taken up by farmers who intended to reduce output anyaway? For example, it may be attractive if bTB has taken cows or calving has slipped. In any event, the effect on the total volume of production will be marginal and short-term.
On the demand side, younger people are drinking less milk. Celebrities advocating a vegan diet and concerns about the contribution of cattle to climate change are helping to persuade teenagers to switch to soya milk and other plant-based alternatives, according to Dairy UK. There is also concern about the fat content of milk, although it has other nutritional benefits.
According to research by Kantar Worldpanel, those over 65 consume milk 875 times a year compared with only 275 times for 5 to 24 year olds. Other research shows that 19 per cent of 16 to 34 year olds do not consume milk at all.