Up until a year ago, milk and cheese prices were soaring woldwide (see Cheddar – the king of cheeses at £2000 per tonne). A surging world economy and rapidly growing demand from China and India were driving up commodity prices, including milk and milk-based producs. In the UK, average farmgate prices for milk had risen from 19 pence per litre (ppl) in 2006 to 27.4ppl by October 2008 (see here for data). Since then, however, as the global economy has plunged into recession, milk prices have fallen. By September 2009, the farmgate price had fallen by over 18 per cent to around 22.4ppl. With rising costs for fuel and cattle feed, many dairy farmers are now making a loss and are either quitting, or considering quitting, the industry.
It’s a similar story in Europe, North America and other dairy producing regions of the world. In Europe “the mood is turning sour. Last week 300 tractors dragged milk containers over fields in southern Belgium, dumping a day’s worth of production (see video). Similar protests were made in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The crisis has driven many EU farmers into a ‘milk strike’, with thousands refusing to deliver to the industrial dairy conglomerates that produce everything from skimmed milk to processed cheese.”
So is this just market forces in action and will prices rise again as the world economy recovers? Or is it a reflection, in part, of the monopsony power of the supermarkets and the milk processing industry? The following articles look at the issues, both in the UK and the rest of Europe and in the USA.
Milk ‘strikes’ and shortages hit Europe as UK dairy industry reels from crisis Observer (20/9/09)
German agriculture ministers meet as European milk crisis escalates Deutsche Welle (17/9/09)
EU Milk Strike Joined by More Than 60,000 Farmers, Group Says Bloomberg (18/9/09)
EU to boost aid for dairy farms BBC News (17/9/09)
Milk: Commission proposes further measures to help dairy sector in short, medium and long term European Commission Press Release (17/9/09)
Milk output fell in August as dairies cut herds Chicago Daily Herald (19/9/09)
New England tries to save dairies The News Journal (Delaware) (20/9/09)
- For what reasons are many dairy farmers now making a loss?
- For what reasons has the power balance in the wholesale milk market shifted towards milk purchasers (such as supermarkets) and away from farmers?
- How would a phased liberalisation of EU milk production help the UK’s dairy farmers?
- Discuss the likely effectiveness of the European Commission’ proposed measures to help dairy sector in short, medium and long term.
- What is likely to happen to milk prices over the next two years and what will be the likely effect on supply? Explain your answer and consider the relevance of price elasticity of supply.
- “Agriculture officials and farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have launched a program called Keep Local Farms. … Organizers say they hope to appeal to consumers’ growing taste for local foods” (see final linked article above). What determines the likely effectiveness of such ‘buy local’ movements? What incentives are there for people to buy local? If countries in general encourage people to buy local, is this a zero sum game? Explain.