Devon and Cornwall dairy farmers quitting industry

Image caption Ian Tuckett said he has been unable to justify a £30,000 investment in a milking parlour

New figures reveal that more than six dairy farmers are leaving the industry in Devon and Cornwall every month.

The high costs of production and low price they are getting for their milk are being blamed.

Ian Tuckett, who has been a dairy farmer for 36 years, is moving on.

He has just auctioned the last of his cattle from Rosehill Farm in Kingskerswell, Devon.

"I did not want to spend another 50 years getting no return on my money," he said.

"In the 20 years we have have been at Rosehill, we have had three good profitable years."

Since foot-and-mouth disease struck 10 years ago he and his wife Carole have been relying on her wages as a palliative carer to keep the tenanted farm going.

"We have been getting 25p a litre at most for our milk, but even that is 2p short of the cost of production.

"It needs to be 30p a litre to make a decent profit."

Increasing costs include the price of cattle feed which has more than doubled in the past four years.

The last straw for Mr Tuckett was being faced with the cost of replacing the milking parlour at a cost of £30,000.

"I could not justify that kind of investment," he said.

"The only options were to borrow and hope the price will go up or get out and I can't see the price going up."

Auctioning the cattle and the farm equipment brought Mr Tuckett close to tears.

"It was part of my life. Loading the last of the cattle was a very difficult thing.

"They are my friends."

One-man-band Mr Tuckett, 50, is proud of his achievements on the 145-acre farm where he devoted his time to caring for his cows.

"The buildings are empty now, there is no sound or mooing.

"People do not realise how much a good stockman puts into his animals."

Mr Tuckett, who made about £380,000 from the auction, has been offered a number of jobs in the dairy industry.

'Food chain broken'

According to the Dairy Farming Information Centre 489 dairy farmers in Devon and Cornwall left the industry between February 2005 and February 2011.

The government says it is addressing the problem with the creation of a Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) to investigate and solve supply disputes between farmers, suppliers and supermarkets.

The National Farmers Union said dairy farmers' incomes in the UK had dropped by 11% in the past financial year.

It wants the government to support an EU proposal for contracts on milk prices to avoid short term price changes.

Image caption Cattle are auctioned at Rosehill Farm, but supermarkets say they are not to blame

Ian Johnson, of the NFU, said: "People are not going to stay in an industry where they can't make a living or stay competitive."

As far as he is concerned, "the food chain is broken".

"Farmers are not going to continue producing milk and get paid three or four pence less a litre than the price it costs to produce."

Agriculture minister James Paice said: "You can have all the contracts in the world but if price isn't right it doesn't make a difference.

"Farmers should have a fair return from the industry and that is only going to come from a market working properly."

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the main four supermarkets in the UK, said it was "wrong to blame supermarkets".

Spokesman Richard Dodd said: "We sympathise with any farmer who leaves the industry.

"But supermarkets do not control the price, they respond to the market.

"A number of dairy farmers are continuing to go out of business but production is going up with bigger, more efficient farms."

Mr Tuckett faces having to give up his home in the next couple of weeks but he is not downhearted.

"We have got some irons in the fire. And we're going to have a holiday for the first time in 20 years," he said.

"I think I deserve one."

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