Guernsey Press

We can run the dairy, farmers tell States

Farmers are in talks with the States about the possibility of taking over the dairy.

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(Picture by Peter Frankland, 33357903)

States Trading Supervisory Board president Peter Roffey revealed that States officials were working with farmers on ‘exactly that sort of plan’.

‘The keys are swinging behind the door and if they can put forward a logical, sustainable and sensible bid to do that, nobody will be more pleased than the STSB,’ said Deputy Roffey.

Guernsey Farmers’ Association president Michael Bray described the discussions as ‘tentative’ at this stage.

‘We have asked the question about whether the farmers should run the dairy?’ said Mr Bray.

‘There are blueprints in Jersey and the Isle of Man of how this could work. We have looked at the structure of how this would be set up. It could be a co-operative with the farms and dairy being run together.’

However, he added that farmers would not have the money if taking over the dairy required significant capital outlay.

‘But if the dairy needs so much investment, its book value is practically worthless,’ said Mr Bray.

‘These are the conversations we need with the States.

‘Ultimately, we don’t know where we are.

‘The last thing we were told was that the industry is in managed decline. If that’s true, then let us run the dairy.’

Responsibility for the dairy transferred to the STSB in 2016, but Mr Bray felt it had not become more commercial since then. It has projected a loss of £200,000 this year.

Mr Bray was adamant that change was needed.

‘Something needs to happen fast as the farmers and the staff at the dairy are demoralised,’ he said.

‘We have been trying to raise awareness of the issue and for over a year now we have been waiting for Environment & Infrastructure’s review into the dairy industry to be published.’

E&I has said it is drawing up a plan to make the dairy industry viable in the long term.

Proposals were due in February but are now expected by the end of the year.

‘We are looking for a direction and a plan for the future,’ said Mr Bray.

‘At the moment, we are not pulling in the same direction to be effective. There is massive frustration as we don’t know the direction we are going in.’

Since the industry was last reviewed a decade ago, the number of farmers on the island has dropped from 18 to 11.

At that time, farmers had their environmental payments from the States cut, but they were told a new dairy was on the cards, and the States has estimated that could cut operating costs by £1m. a year.

‘But there has been no movement on the new dairy and the site needs significant investment,’ said Mr Bray.

‘This has put a strain on the industry and we are at breaking point.

‘From the farmers’ perspective, we have jumped through every hoop.’

Deputy Roffey described the dairy as being less a business and more ‘a vital enabler for the maintenance of Guernsey’s countryside’ which could never be expected to make significant profit under its current business model.

He criticised a previous States savings initiative, the Financial Transformation Programme, under which he said support to farmers had been cut by 75% in the past couple of decades, which had driven up the price the dairy was paying farmers for raw milk and, in turn, increased the retail price paid by consumers.